Press Release
March 2, 2008


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Nene" Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today dared President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop preventing Secretary Romulo Neri from testifying anew at the Senate inquiry into the national broadband controversy and heed the call of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for transparency to curb graft in government.

Pimentel said Neri's continued refusal to return to the Senate to complete his testimony is working to his disadvantage in the face of widespread perception that he is concealing the truth and covering up the President's involvement in the anomalous $329 million ZTE contract on the national broadband network project.

Noting the Palace's apparent inclination to heed the CBCPs call for the revocation of Executive Order 464 banning executive officials from facing congressional inquiry without presidential clearance, Pimentel said the President can show good faith by telling Neri he is free to go back to the Senate to resume his testimony.

Neri, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), is under tremendous public pressure to speak up and supply the missing portions of his testimony. But Pimentel said Neri could not do so for fear of the consequences if he defies the President's gag order.

Apparently, he said Neri is afraid of two things - first, the threat of being fired from his Cabinet post, and second, his fear for his life.

Pimentel cited a Senate testimony of Neri's friend and former technical consultant, Rodolfo Lozada, that the CHED chairman and former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), that Neri had confided to him about the death threats he had been receiving.

"GMA is using 'mutually assured destruction' tactics to keep Neri away from the Senate," the minority leader said.

"Neri knows the President can kick him out from CHED because he is not qualified for the post and from the Monetary Board he is no longer NEDA head."

Pimentel said Neri's continued to stay in the Cabinet has become untenable after Lozada testified that Neri had once described the President as "evil" in one of their conversations about the ZTE-NBN deal.

Despite this damning information, he said Mrs. Arroyo has desisted from removing Neri as CHED chairman since she knows that the moment she does this and loses her hold on him, nothing will prevent him from going back to the Senate and from spilling the beans about the ZTE-NBN irregularity.

Pimentel noted that Neri's movements are being restricted as he is being guarded by a team of soldiers from the Presidential Security Group.

He said he is inclined to think that Neri is willing to return to the Senate's witness stand specially in the light of revelations that the CHED chairman had met secretly with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal last December 7 at the Asian Institute of Management.

During that meeting, Secretary Neri supposedly explained why he is constrained from returning to the Senate although he broached a proposal for concerned civil society groups to put up a so-called patriotic fund to help government officials like him to tide over financial difficulties after turning while-blowers and losing their jobs in the process.

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