Update 8:34 pm (heard on the road around 7 pm) Arroyo changes mind, ‘advises’ Neri to attend NBN hearing. The end of a long day of official flip-flopping!
Update 6:28 pm: Senate to subpoena Neri to attend NBN probe next week . I think the Senate’s let him slip through their fingers on this one.
Update 5:29 pm: guess who just filed a new impeachment rap?
Ta-da! Oliver Lozano.
Over the weekend a source described the situation between the President and the Speaker like this. It’s like Defcon 3, the source said. The missiles are fueled and primed, the launch codes have been brought out and authorized, but neither side has pressed the launch button. The papers report that an initial effort to topple the Speaker failed.
Wednesday’s Senate hearing showed every sign of being the launch-button-pressing event.
In his blog, Ricky Carandang reported on the hastily-called press conference last Saturday, where two cabinet secretaries announced that the ZTE and the CyberEd deals had been suspended. And why a sudden reversal of the official position was called for:
Some inquiring minds think that the suspension was actually prompted by Arroyo watching Romulo Neri on TV last night vowing to tell all he knows about the NBN deal. The argument is that now that the deal has been suspended, we can all “move on”and there’s no need for Neri to appear before the senate anymore. I can already imagine the chorus of the “let’s move on” crowd filling the columns of newspapers and blogs and airwaves of TV and radio stations. I anticipate Joker Arroyo saying on Wednesday that since the project has been suspended, there is no need to investigate the matter further and therefore we can let sleeping dogs lie. It’s a win-win solution. The opposition can claim victory by blocking another DOTC white elephant, no one goes after Abalos and Mike Arroyo anymore and Joe De Venecia remains Speaker…for now. Of course there are some loose ends. Joey De Venecia is hung out to dry, and if his allgations are true, someone forfeits their $200 commission, and Abalos will have to find some way to return the “monies”already advanced by ZTE, or the generals will break his kneecaps.
Carandang’s opinion, in a comment in his own blog, makes for a compelling analysis:
Personally, I don’t think this will lead to Gloria’s premature removal from office. Aside from having no hope that Congress will ever impeach her, I think too many of the elite cliques would oppose it at this late hour. With three years to go before she (presumably) steps down, her removal would intoduce a new element of uncertainty’a Noli de Castro presidency. By 2010, having tasted power for three years, Noli may want more and may resort to the same machinations to hold onto power as his predecessor. That in turn could usher in another prolonged period of political intramurals among the elites. Add to that the fact that Noli, like Erap,is considered by the establsihment to be an unacceptable outsider.
What I see happening at this point is that all the accumulated evidence of wrongdoing will be used against Gloria and her accomplices after she is made to stepdown in 2010 and face a plunder/economic sabotage/multiple murder/crimes against humanity/ case before the Judiciary.
But the clumsy, heavy-handed actions of the Palace over the weekend has only intensified demands for the hearing (while BusinessWorld reports the President and her husband’s ratings have dipped). See last Sunday’s Inquirer editorial and today’s Inquirer editorial. Interest in what former NEDA chief Romulo Neri has to say, is particularly keen. In his column, today, Jarius Bondoc says Neri could possibly not only implicate the President herself (see the Newsbreak article from September 10, PCIJ’s primer on ZTE, as well as GmaNews.tv’s scoop: Cabinet split on cost, benefits of NBN, overlap with CyberEd), but a prominent businessman:
Romy then rattled off many things he knew about the events leading to the scheduled signing of Apr. 21. I later learned that he had told at least three of our common friends the same things.
Some of the items have since been reported in broadcast and print. There was a supposed invitation from COMELEC chief Benjamin Abalos to golf at the Wack Wack Country Club, during which Romy was offered P200 million to support ZTE. As the story goes, Romy turned down and told President Arroyo about the indecent proposal. Whereupon, she instructed him to not accept the bribe but ensure the NEDA approvals just the same. Romy has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Only God and Romy know if under oath he would confirm or deny the other items. I pray that he expound on them. He had told me on that morning of Apr. 20 and several other times that not only a COMELEC official but an influential businessman too was inordinately lobbying for ZTE Corp. The businessman allegedly was responsible for the sudden rise of the ZTE tag price to $330 million days before the signing, when its original offer in Dec. to Feb. was $262 million. What was the $68-million difference for, I asked in subsequent talks. Romy said the businessman was assigned to raise campaign funds for an administration party during the last election.
I would understand if Romy balks in identifying the businessman. In a previous cocktail party at the residence of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., he said, that man had cornered and threatened him for opposing a fishy pier project. That man reportedly also worked on Romy’s consequent transfer from NEDA to the Commission on Higher Education.
Romy in our talks implicated most of the persons Joey de Venecia has exposed under oath as thieving from the broadband purchase. But I get the impression that Romy knows much more than the heroic whistleblower who initially was bidding for the telecom project.
About ZTE executives, Romy also said he has never seen any group as aggressive as them in pushing for a contract. They were waiting outside the NEDA conference room while the Cabinet was deliberating about them.
More importantly, Romy said a very powerful official arm-twisted him to turn the broadband project from a safe build-operate-transfer plan to a risky outright supply purchase. It was for that reason, he told me on Apr. 20, that he almost resigned from the Cabinet the day before.
And yet, in the face of increased public interest, it seemed that the President’s only option would be to invoke EO 464 and forbid executive officials from appearing.
But that would solidify negative public perceptions of the President. But there seemed no other option: better people coming to sinister conclusions rather than solid testimony made under oath.
Then, this morning, a pretty breathtaking example of Marcosian jujitsu.
The President leaves for New York tomorrow, and it’s being widely discussed that among her entourage will be Romulo Neri. (update, 1:235 pm) President asks Neri to take US trip with her–reports. There you go!
(update 2:10 pm) Neri: DFA ‘advised’ me to go with President:
Romulo Neri, ex-economic planning secretary, and a key resource person in the national broadband network contract between the government and the ZTE Corp. of China, has disclosed that he was “advised”to accompany President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the United States this week.
Neri, who was at the House of Representatives for a budget hearing Monday, issued the statement in response to a question by Bayan Muna Congressman Teodoro CasiÑo on whether he would go with the President in her US trip.
“It’s a possibility,”said Neri and said that he had been “advised” by the Department of Foreign Affairs to go to the US where the President is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
But before the budget hearing, Neri told INQUIRER.net that he would still have to think about whether to accept the invitation as he has agreed to attend the Senate investigation on the NBN project this Wednesday.
“I have been advised by the DFA that I may be needed to help in the Millenium Development Challenge,”said Neri Monday, responding to Cagayan Representative Rufus Rodriguez’s question about his impending US trip.
“The President is my superior…I guess, if instructed to go and it’s a legal order, I may have to follow it,”said Neri who attended the budget hearing at the House of Representatives.
But at the same time, Neri said he would “come back in time.” “As I’ve said I’ve promised to attend [the Senate investigation].”
The question then becomes whether Neri is a free agent or not, at this point: if he’s a captive, he will bundled onto the presidential plane. If he is partially free, he can wriggle out of the trip and stay for the Senate hearing: a gambit which may or may not succeed, not least, because it depends on the risks Neri is willing to take.
Or, if it’s just a propaganda effort to deflate the ballooning effort to cheer Neri on.
My column today, Heroic leadership, suggests why Neri should be prepared to testify even at the risk of disobeying the President (I also quoted from this article by Matthew Mehan on St. Thomas More). There are even those, like blogger Uniffors, who are calling on Neri to live up to his Ateneo principles.
A few days ago, Solita Monsod said, in her column, that she believed Joey de Venecia (I Set No Corner agrees). She also used a term that I found interesting: a scorched-earth campaign is under way, she said, against critics of the NBN deal. But I‘d pointed out scorched-earth governance has been the style of the Palace for some years now. Just how scorched-earth? Read Tony Abaya describe how his writing a column skeptical of the ZTE deal triggered a negative in Enrique Razon’s paper -the same paper Abaya writes for:
So, between 12:23 pm when I emailed the article to Manila Standard Today, and 1:30 pm, or a little over an hour later, someone in Malacanang had concocted this story about how Joey de Venecia ‘ whom I had never met in my entire life – had been talking to me to destroy the credibility of the ZTE Corp.
This is all the more surprising since this article ‘A-B-Z-T-E-F-G ‘ did not see print until the next day, Sept. 20. And it was not sent electronically to my distribution list until 8:51 pm of Sept. 19.
So the only copy of that article that the Malacanang source could have possibly seen was the copy that was sent by email to Manila Standard Today. Either someone in the newspaper office forwarded it to Malacanang, which I doubt, or “intelligence agents”wire-tapped the cable lines of my computer, which is more likely.
(I first became aware of my computer being wire-tapped in July 2005, but that’s another story for another day.)
In the blogosphere, Yugatech’s entry made news: Filipino bloggers frustrated with NBN Senate investigation (would they agree or disagree with Patricia Evangelista, too?). In Newsstand, John Nery says he wasn’t satisfied with the way the senators conducted their questioning. A Nagueno in the Blogosphere calls the deal a “Frankenstein project.” Slap Happy simply isn’t surprised.
New Philippine Revolution has an interesting take on things, similar thoughts expressed in Ya Basta de Disparates. I wonder though, if, as the blogger (NPR) asserts, Sec. Leandro Mendoza is “clean.” There was a point during the last Senate hearing, when senators seemed like they were trying to pin him down on the question of whether an executive agreement existed or not. Mendoza said, no executive agreement existed. The Q&A hinged on what Mendoza tried to pass off as ungrammatical English on the part of the lawyer who wrote the contract with ZTE.:
7:26 Legarda: Is there an executive agreement or not?
M: Not yet. It’s still in process.
L: Even if the supply contract says there was an executive agreement signed?
M: This was explained by the one who wrote the contract, this may be explained by maybe there was some error…Uh, well, if the other party thinks it’s OK…
L: There is an admission by the executive that there was an error in which the document was drafted and signed?
M: Well, no, the executive agreement is under process…
(continued debate on “is”and “was”and differences in terms of English usage; Mendoza insists lawyer said intent of document was clear to both parties; Mendoza says there are many angles; government thinks, though, best angle to pursue is the Supreme Court, they will follow the rule of law…
I wonder though: what if Mendoza perjured himself? Which is the easier, and thus, more likely explanation? Poor English skills or, that the document was referring, indeed, to an existing executive agreement?