2 GMA Cabinet members may spill the beans—Jinggoy

February 21, 2008









The Arroyo Cabinet may be showing cracks, despite the show of unity and expressions of solid support as Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada yesterday claimed that some Cabinet officials of President Arroyo have been sending feelers to the effect that they are ready to testify before the Senate on the ongoing scandal-tainted ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) contract probe, saying their appearance before the Senate may come anytime soon.

An Arroyo ally now even calls President Arroyo a “lucky bitch,” but a “bitch” nevertheless.

From reports reaching his office, Senator Estrada told reporters that some Cabinet officials who remained unidentified, have already sent feelers expressing their desire to come out in the open and disclose what they know of the purported irregularities in the botched $330 million broadband deal.

“I’m quite confident that there are members of her Cabinet who might spill the beans on the ZTE. There are a lot of reports reaching my office,” he said.

The senator also twitted Malacañang on the so-called “unity walk” made last Tuesday cautioning Palace officials by saying that it’s not an assurance for the chief executive that those who took part mean they remain to be trusted allies of Mrs. Arroyo.

Senator Estrada knows whereof he speaks, as even his father, then sitting President Joseph Estrada, still had then Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, now Mrs. Arroyo’s energy chief, along with his then defense secretary, Orlando Mercado, with him in Malacañang up till lunch time of the day Reyes, invoking the name of the AFP, staged a mutiny while announcing that the military was withdrawing support from him and transferring this support to then Vice President Gloria Arroyo.

“They had better be careful,” he said. He or she might just testify before the Senate. Maybe one or two of them,” Senator Estrada said.

In a related development, the deposed Speaker’s spouse, Gina de Venecia yesterday joined growing calls for Commission on Higher Education (Ched) chair Romulo Neri to speak the truth about what he knows about the botched US$329 million NBN deal.

Gina, who used to be a Palace insider due to her close friendship with Mrs. Arroyo, said that Neri could be under extreme pressure to keep his mouth shut even as she said that she had heard Neri berate Mrs. Arroyo on several occasions in the past.

“He (Neri) said the same thing to me, four or five times in the course of our conversations on different occasions,” De Venecia said referring to the instances when Neri called Mrs. Arroyo “evil.”

Neri, she said, also complained that “GMA is not capable of changing.”

“Neri is like a son to my husband because he worked for him, for many years, in Congress,” she said. Neri was the former chief of the Congressional Planning and Development Office of the House of Representatives.

She called on Neri to speak out the truth.

“Romy, I hope you take a stand for the truth. Do as your friend Jun Lozada did, in baring the truth,” she said in Filipino. “Your loyalty should not be attached to one family or one person but to the 90 million Filipinos,” De Venecia said

The wife of the former speaker also warned the Arroyo government that “the tipping point” is about to come, citing the massive show of support for former Philippine Forest Corp.chief Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, who exposed the details of the alleged corruption in the NBN deal.

“From what I have seen, this is going to go ahead,” she said.

De Venecia said that the confluence of events has brought the cross section of society behind Lozada and against Mrs. Arroyo.

She noted that the protest actions against Mrs. Arroyo should go on until she steps down from Malacañang.

“These protest actions must be continued because if Mrs. Arroyo slips through this again, she will be more boastful. She will become more arrogant. And those that surround her will be bolder in extending her term,” De Venecia stressed.

She said she had overheard supporters of Mrs. Arroyo of their plan to change the Constitution in order to extend the term of Mrs. Arroyo.

Meanwhile, Malacañang yesterday said that the P500,000 cash assistance given by Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Manuel Gaite to Rodolfo Lozada came from an “anonymous” source, contradicting Gaite’s own claim that the money came from his personal pockets.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita , however, maintained, that such cash assistance is not a government fund.

“The cash was given on condition of anonymity but at the proper time, the source will be revealed by Gaite,” Ermita said.

He said that in due time, Gaite, will reveal the source of the cash as the palace official revealed that Deputy Executive Secretary will be allowed to testify again at the Senate to disclaim the allegations made by Lozada on the matter .

“ If he (Gaite) will be called again, then he will attend,”assured Ermita.

Gaite on Tuesday admitted giving P500,000 cash on Lozada’s brother, Owe last February 4 after it was asked by the NBN’ whistle blower through a text from abroad last Feb. 3.

Gaite, in his official statement, however, stressed that the money was asked by Lozada and it does not come from government fund.

The Palace official also denied that such cash assistance is a bribe for Lozada not to testify or at least lie in favor of the government if he participates at the Senate hearing on the NBN’ scandal .

Gaite also expressed belief that he could be a victim of a set-up because he could not reconcile why Lozada would ask for cash assistance from abroad only to return to the country a day after he (Gaite) handed the cash assistance to the whistle blower’s brother, Owe Lozada.

He maintained that Lozada’s trip abroad was official but that it was Lozada who decided to not to pursue it.

“The information about his travel to London (not HongKong) came from him, after I explained to him that one of the valid reasons not to appear at the scheduled Senate hearing on Jan. 30, 2008 was a previous schedule that one can no longer cancel. The decision to go ahead with the trip was his, not mine,” Gaite stressed.

In his re-appearance at the continuation of the Senate inquiry of the NBN deal Monday, Lozada identified the source of the cash assistance as Gaite .

Lozada said he attended the Senate’ hearing just to return the money given to him through his younger brother by Gaite after he complained of having no money already while in his Hong Kong trip.

The Senate ordered the opening of the package which revealed bundles of cash, reportedly amounting to P500,000.

The Palace is on the right track in having Gaite investigated in providing supposed loan of P500,000 to Lozada, Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said yesterday.

Pimentel said Gaite appeared to be “liable” for possible violations of the country’s banking laws.

“Understandably, Cabinet (members) know who butter their bread.So, Gaite is now a lending bank. I want to find out if the Central Bank licensed him to do that,” Pimentel said with sarcasm.

Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, said Gaite’s claim that he merely loaned half a million pesos to Lozada out of sheer generosity is implausible, if not downright unbelievable.

“How can a Deputy Executive Secretary considering his position, easily shell out a huge amount of P.5M? If media reports are to be believed, this amount was said to have been a loan.”

That’s difficult to believe. How much does Gaite earn (for him to have a ready P500,000?”

Pangilinan even pointed out that even members of the upper chamber, despite their stature and financial standing, cannot afford to do what Gaite did, especially with the Palace official making the amount of money available right away.

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