CALLING it part of an effort to hide bribery and criminal activity, Senators Mar Roxas III and Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III today asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the executive privilege that Malacañang invoked to keep some documents in relation to the US$329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project confidential.
In a 24-page petition before the High Court this morning, the two lawmakers argued that the invocation of executive privilege by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita “constitutes grave abuse of discretion.”
Read the full text of the Roxas-Aquino petition.
The case stems from a September 27, 2007 order by Ermita to acting National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Augusto Santos barring the agency and its officers from releasing three specific documents related to the NBN deal to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. The order covers the minutes of the March 26, 2007 meeting of the NEDA-Special Joint Investment Coordination Committee, minutes of the March 29, 2007 meeting of the joint NEDA Board and ICC, and the project evaluation report dated March 26, 2007.
“The fact is that, in previous hearings conducted by the Senate Committees, they have acquired substantial evidence that the information requested concerns criminal activity not only by Executive officials but also by the highest official of an independent Constitutional commission,” the two Liberal Party senators said.
The NBN deal was allegedly marred by bribery in many stages, as can be gleaned from testimonies of people involved in the project. In the Senate’s September 26 hearing, former NEDA Director General Romulo Neri testified that over a golf game, then Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. offered him P200 million if the NBN project is approved. Jose de Venecia III of Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI) said he was offered US$10 million by Abalos in exchange for his firm’s pullout as bidder.
Yesterday, de Venecia III, quoting businessman Enrique Razon, told the Senate that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo was the deal’s “coach” who stood to gain US$70 million from the project’s approval. Abalos and Arroyo have denied the allegations against them.
“Executive privilege does not extend to criminal activities like the bribery allegations of unprecedented magnitude involved in the NBN project,” the lawmakers said. They asked the High Court to issue a writ of certiorari to nullify the Ermita letter ordering Santos not to release the documents, and a writ of mandamus to compel Santos to submit all documents related to the NBN project to the Senate.
The petitioners cited several constitutional provisions that guarantee the public’s right to information, rejecting Malacañang’s statement that the issue involves diplomatic secrets between Manila and Beijing, which is extending the loan for the deal. They said it is purely a commercial transaction, and since the contract as Malacañang claims has been cancelled, the argument has lost validity.
“It is about the decision-making process that led to this,” Roxas said. He said the documents will reveal the considerations, the advocates, the opponents, and the entire discussion leading to the approval of this contract. And those may be things Malacañang is not prepared to reveal as yet.