Press Release
August 30, 2009


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said former National Economic and Development Authority director general Romulo Neri should stop grumbling over the Office of the Ombudsman's decision to file a graft complaint against him with the Sandiganbayan arising from his involvement in the fraudulent $329 million national broadband network-ZTE deal.

Neri, who was reassigned as president of the Social Security System after the NBN-ZTE scandal broke out, asked why he was being charged when he refused a P200 million bribe allegedly dangled to him in exchange for a favorable evaluation and endorsement of the project

But Pimentel said Neri has only himself to blame for his misfortune. He said while it was Neri who revealed the bribe attempt and reported it to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he refused to divulge details of his conversation with the President.

"He had a lengthy discussion with the President about the bribery and the project itself. But he did not want to reveal exactly what they discussed. The implication is that he was covering up a crime," the opposition senator said.

Pimentel said what the Senate wanted to know from Neri was why the President went ahead with the approval of the NBN-ZTE despite the allegations of bribery, overpricing and other irregularities.

He recalled that Neri opted to keep silent by invoking executive privilege and he even went to the Supreme Court to prevent the Senate from forcing him to tell everything he knew.

Only Neri and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, who allegedly offered him the P200 million bribe, were recommended for prosecution by the Ombudsman with the Sandiganbayan.

Despite the criticisms over the exclusion of the First Couple and other personalities from the charge sheet, Pimentel said the Ombudsman, by releasing its findings and recommendations, has at least set in motion the prosecution of people responsible for the anomalies that tainted the NBN-ZTE contract.

He said the Ombudsman can still include the prosecution of other persons depending on the additional evidence that will be gathered, specially after the Senate blue ribbon committee releases its own investigation report on the controversial project.

For instance, Pimentel noted that some members of the committee believe that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo should be similarly charged for their alleged role in the allegedly overpriced project.

However, he said even if there is credible evidence that points to the criminal liability of the President, she could not be prosecuted because she enjoys immunity from suit.

"Conventional legal wisdom tells us that the President cannot be prosecuted while she is in office. Of course, that concept is being challenged even in the United States. But here in the Philippines, that concept continues to prevail based on the theory that the President should not be distracted from her official duties," the senator from Mindanao said.

Pimentel pointed out, however, that there is nothing in the Constitution that states that the President should be spared from prosecution after the expiration of her term for offenses he or she may have committed while in power.

He said this is the only plausible explanation why Malacañang has moved heaven and earth to push for Charter Change to enable Mrs. Arroyo to extend her six-year term that is fixed by the Constitution.

Pimentel stressed that the filing by the Ombudsman of graft charges against Abalos and Neri with the Sandiganbayan does not in anyway mean that the Ombudsman is precluded from asking the court to add more names to the list of the accused.

He said that while it may look awkward that the investigation report of the Senate blue ribbon committee would be released after the Ombudsman acted on the case, such report would still be very valuable because this will strengthen the evidence against the erring parties.

Moreover, the minority leader explained that the inquiry conducted by the Senate is essentially aimed at proposing legislative measures to prevent misuse of public funds.

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