DoJ mulls criminal raps vs Neri, Lozada

February 22, 2008

Just two days into the Department of Justice’s investigation into the scandal-tainted $329-million ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) deal, which was claimed to be conducted fairly and impartially and charge those involved in the kickback schemes of the project, the DoJ said it was mulling possible criminal charges against NBN whiste-blower Rodolfo Lozada Jr. and Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) Romulo Neri, citing Malacañang’s secrecy order.

Nothing was said about the DoJ charging the former Commission on Elections chairman, Benjamin Abalos Sr., or the First Gentleman, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo

and a few others, all of whom were linked to the controversial deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Speaking to reporters during a respite of the fact -finding investigation, Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar said Lozada may potentially face raps if it is proven that a standing confidentiality agreement over the documents for the negotiation including

Citing a Palace circular, which supposedly proscribed premature disclosure of the deal, Salazar said those who leaked documents “may be held liable for violations of the provisions of the Revised Penal Code covering infidelity in the custody of public documents and revealing trade secrets”

Under that law the offense of infidelity in the custody of document (Art.226 of RPC) may be committed by any public officer who shall remove, destroy or conceal documents or papers officially entrusted to him.

It is punishable by up to six years imprisonment and a fine of P1,000 and is committed even whenever the damage to a third party or to the public interest shall not have been serious.

Revelation of secrets by an officer (Art.229) on the other hand is committed by any public officer who shall reveal any secret known to him by reason of his official capacity, or shall wrongfully deliver papers or copies of papers of which he may have charge and which should not be published.

Salazar clarified that however they will still look into whether the charges would be warranted under the circumstances of the working relationship between Neri and Lozada.”There seems to be no written authorization which would entitle Lozada to get a copy of these documents.”

Neri was not present during yesterday’s hearings but in attendance was the assistant director general of the National Economic and Development (Neda) said that the ZTE project is a good deal for the government Thursday as the DoJ continues its investigation on the aborted broadbank deal.

Ruben Reynoso Jr, Neda assistant director general, said that the project is good from a saving viewpoint as the government stands to save an estimated P4 billion yearly if the ZTE broadband pushed through.

Reynoso also pointed out that he did not meet nor discussed details of the project with Lozada.

While admitting to knowing Lozada socially and meeting the latter several times in the Neda office in Pasig, Reynoso said there was no time that the ZTE witness intervened nor influenced for the pushing of the ZTE broadband deal.

Reynoso also said that Lozada only came to visit Neri when the latter “felt a need to relax for while”.

Salazar said there was no document indicating Neri took in Lozada as a consultant authorized to view documents on the NBN project.

The DoJ undersecretary said the details Lozada disclosed about the $329.48-million deal, including the proposals of China’s ZTE Corp. and Jose de Venecia III’s Amsterdam Holdings Inc., are considered confidential.

Government lawyers are contesting Lozada’s petition for protection from the court during a hearing at the Court of Appeals (CA) in Manila.

The solicitor general contested in particular Lozada’s bid to change the name of the petitioner in his petition for amparo, from Arturo Lozada to Lozada himself.

It argued that if the name of the petitioner would be changed, the entire petition should also be changed. On the other hand Lozada’s lawyers questioned the government’s return of writ, saying it had no verification from President Arroyo, who was named as one of the respondents.

With taped conversations making it to the You Tube supposedly between Lozada and Joey de Venecia, the former Speaker’s son issued a statement saying that “the conversation I was supposed to have made with Jun Lozada and posted in the YouTube shows how people like you and me can be bugged, harassed and threatened by this government.

He said some portions appeared to have been tampered.

He warned businessmen, stockholders and bankers out there, saying that “this is the perfect example to show all of you that there are no confidential information that could be exchanged in this country because of the nosy, illegal and unethical practices of this government and its minions.”

Meanwhile, Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. yesterday thumbed down calls for them to stop the ZTE probe and even directed the three investigating committees to dig deeper as he issued subpoenas to police officials who allegedly participated in the kidnapping of Lozada.

“The Senate will not stop doing what it ought to do. We’ve been given this mandate by the Constitution. It’s our job to look into every anomaly that comes out in the open.

“We have not been remiss of our job. The public need not worry because we make sure that we conduct our investigations in the morning when there is no session and mostly on Thursdays or Fridays when there’s not much work to do so it does not hamper our job,” he said.

Villar also issued subpoenas for 17 police and airport officials, compelling their appearance for the resumption of the probe on Tuesday.

Villar made the move after the said officials snubbed the last public hearing citing the obstruction of justice case filed against them in court by a senator,

Leading the list of those issued with a summon are the following: Brig. Gen. (ret.) Angel Atutubo, Aviation Security Group Chief Supt. Atiliano Morada, Police Security and Protection Office (PSPO) Chief Supt. Romeo Hilomen, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Assistant General Manager Octavio Lina, Philippine National Police (PNP-ASG) Rodolfo Valeroso, SPO2 Glicerio Gallinera, SPO2 Jaime Halog, Chief Insp. Julio Gorospe, SPO1 Igmedio Suela, PO2 Randy Aquino, PO1 Mauro Lim Jr., PO1 Julio Ponta-oy, SPO3 Lou Ochea, Senior Supt. Paul Pueblos Mascarinas, SPO3 Lou Ochea, SPO2 Nelson Malto, SPO1 Jose Batotoc and PO1 William Quilalan.

Villar chided Malacañang saying that when Lozada finally surfaced and agreed to testify, the Executive allowed government officials to appear before them and confront the allegations made by the witness, only to back track when they found themselves in a hot seat.

“Now they’re claiming that there’s another investigation being conducted on the same issue. For me, this clearly shows that the probe (by the Ombudsman) is being carried out to give them a reason not to appear here in the Senate.”

Villar admitted that there are pressures being exerted on him in putting to a halt the hearings on ZTE.

Administration Sen. Juan Ponce admitted that such filing of a case against the law enforcers do not pose a problem as far as continued holding of public hearings on ZTE.

“Personally, if I were their lawyer, I can get them out of obstruction of justice. They were instructed to secure the guy. WhAT what was the justice to be observed? There was a warrant not to bring him to jail but to bring him to the Senate in order to answer questions and he voluntarily surrendered himself. How can there be obstruction of justice?” he asked.

But Enrile said it’s already immaterial to call the police and airport officials for another hearing as they have already testified.

Sen. Pia Cayetano supported the contention of Enrile as far as pending cases in courts are concerned.

“There are Supreme Court cases that have ruled that Senate investigation can go on while there are government investigations, I personally, as a senator always fully support the investigations of my colleague,” Cayetano said .

Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. supported Villar and even advised Malacañang and its legislative lackeys to stop telling the Senate to discontinue its investigation into the national broadband controversy and to entrust this task instead to the Office of the Ombudsman which has already started its probe on the same case.

Pimentel said there is no reason to scuttle the Senate inquiry into the alleged anomalies surrounding the ZTE-NBN contract which constitute public, and not private crime, committed by people in government, and is therefore a matter of public interest.

“My suggestion is we go full steam forward and damn the torpedoes.”

Ironically, Pimentel said that while the Senate is being dissuaded from pursuing its investigation, the DoJ has moved to conduct its own inquiry of the ZTE-NBN with the approval of President Arroyo.

Pimentel said if the Senate will recommend the criminal prosecution of people responsible for the anomalies in the NBN-ZTE deal, that will be acceptable only if this is based on truth and factual evidence.

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