EARLY this month, as media agencies, cause-oriented and academic groups knocked on the doors of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to get more documents about the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal, they found the passageways shut due to an order by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
Ermita’s order, which was received at the NEDA on September 28, effectively ended the paper trail for those researching on the deal. In it, Ermita ordered Acting NEDA Director-General Augusto Santos not to release three specific NBN documents to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. These are the minutes of the March 26, 2007 meeting of the Special Joint Investment Coordinating Committee (ICC), minutes of the March 29, 2007 meeting of the joint NEDA Board and ICC, and the project evaluation report dated March 26, 2007.
In his memo, Ermita told Santos that “discussions in closed-door Cabinet and NEDA meetings are considered executive privilege,” arguing that this can be gleaned from Supreme Court decisions in Chavez v. PCGG and Senate v. Ermita. The documents are expected to reveal how the government reached the decision in favor of the controversial deal.
“If internal deliberations, debates and positions of Cabinet members can be compelled to be disclosed, Cabinet officials will be unduly hampered in giving their frank, full and free exchange of views in the shaping of decisions, policies and actions affecting the nation,” Ermita said.
Read the full text of Ermita’s letter to NEDA Director-General Santos.
Santos, in a letter to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee today, used the Ermita order as basis for declining the Senate’s request for documents. Piqued by the absence of the documents in the hearing this morning, Sen. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III asked that the Senate study its legal options to pry open the documents from NEDA.
“The Ermita order is invalid. They (Malacañang) cannot invoke executive privilege in sealing these documents,” Aquino said.
Aquino argued that Article 12, Section 9 of the Constitution guarantees NEDA’s independence. That independence, he says, extends to NEDA’s freedom from the executive’s intrusions into its affairs.
The Ermita memo does not also sit well with some NEDA officials and employees, especially those who have spent decades in the agency. After all, the agency has worked hard to maintain its image of integrity and professionalism.
“Dapat ibukas sa publiko ang mga dokumento kung gusto nilang makita para wala silang duda (The documents should be made available to remove doubts in the public’s mind),” says a long-time NEDA officer, who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job.
Another staff says the Ermita memo disappointed many NEDA officers and employees, who believe their work can withstand public scrutiny. “They want to prove that they are professionals, that they do their jobs well,” the source said. She adds that recent events surrounding the NBN deal have demoralized many in the agency.
Aquino says he is in consultation with his lawyers to determine the best course to take. But he says the case should be pursued by the Senate as one body. “Palagay ko naman, di ako nag-iisa rito (I won’t be alone in this cause),” he said.