THE anti-graft court ruled Thursday that former President Gloria Arroyo may not be made to testify at the corruption trial of former Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri because she had the right to remain silent while still under investigation.
The Sandiganbayan justices said there was no question that, like Neri, Arroyo was being investigated in connection with the scrapped $329-million national broadband network deal with ZTE of China following claims it was tainted by corruption.
Arroyo’s lawyers Estelito Mendoza and Jose Flaminiano had earlier argued that as long as she was being investigated over the same case, she could never be considered an “ordinary witness” and could not be compelled to testify.
Fifth Division chairman Rolando Jurado and Associate Justices Napoleon Inoturan and Alex Quiroz agreed, saying people under investigation for a crime committed must be informed of their right to remain silent.
The justices said the information in the case against Neri was based on the joint resolution issued by the Office of the Ombudsman, which consolidated seven cases involving the ZTE scandal that broke out during the Arroyo administration.
The respondents in those complaints are accused of having violated several laws, including the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The former president, the Sandiganbayan justices said, was among those included in the complaint, but she was dropped at the time because of presidential immunity.
In the trial against former elections commissioner Benjamin Abalos over the same deal Thursday, a columnist of The Philippine Star testified that Neri had named Mrs. Arroyo or her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, as among four people involved in the overpriced ZTE contract.
Jarious Bondoc told the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division that Neri, a longtime friend, had told him that Abalos, businessman Enrique Razon Jr., and “one or more persons, either the First Gentleman or President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” were involved in the ZTE deal.
“You find out for yourself. I can’t tell you, I won’t tell you,” Bondoc quoted Neri as saying.
Neri denied Bondoc’s claim.
“I don’t know about that,” he told reporters after emerging from the hearing of his own graft case with the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division.
When told about Neri’s denial, Bondoc replied: “He’s denying that conversation. That will be on his conscience.”
Macon Ramos-Araneta, Manila Standard Today