Ombudsman orders FG, Abalos to comment on affidavits of NBN-ZTE witnesses


By Edu Punay
Friday, July 4, 2008

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First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and other respondents were ordered yesterday by the Office of the Ombudsman to comment on the affidavits of key witnesses to alleged anomalies in the $329-million national broadband network project granted to Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus said investigators will collate all affidavits submitted by businessman Jose de Venecia III, Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. and engineer Dante Madriaga affirming their testimonies before the Senate and send them to the respondents for immediate response.

“We will give them time to comment or reply on the affidavits of affirmation submitted by the witnesses, which have been accepted as part of the complaints,” he told The STAR over the phone.

“They could file additional counter-affidavits if necessary. Itís always important to observe due process.”

De Jesus said the investigating panel might conduct further hearings and call on any of the complainants, respondents and witnesses for “further clarification.”

“A lawyer of one of the respondents said during earlier hearing that they would ask for 120 days (or four months) to reply on the affidavits since they would have to comment on statements in the 5,000-page transcript from the Senate,” he said.

“They would be given time to inspect transcript or obtain their own copies. But I think 120 days would be too lengthy.”

Once the respondents have commented on the affidavits of the witnesses, the panel would consolidate all seven complaints and issue a uniform decision whether or not to charge the respondents before the Sandiganbayan, De Jesus said.

Lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr., a complainant in four cases against Mr. Arroyo and Abalos, sought the affirmation of the Senate testimonies of the key witnesses.

In his affidavit prepared by Francisco, Lozada affirmed his Senate testimony that Mr. Arroyo and Abalos were involved in the supposedly overpriced deal with ZTE Corp.

Lozada did not sign the 5,000 pages of the transcript in which his testimony appeared as required by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Instead he certified the transcript of stenographic notes from the Senate as “true copies.”

In his Senate testimony, Lozada narrated how “Chairman Abalos wanted to protect his $130-million commission on the project.”

The project was supposed to be on a build-operate-transfer basis but Abalos was insistent of having it done on loan basis, he added.

De Venecia, a son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. affirmed his Senate testimony last June 23.

Madriaga affirmed his Senate testimony before the Office of the Ombudsman last June 5. As technical consultant to the NBN deal, he affirmed under oath his statement that President Arroyo and her husband were involved in the controversial project.

In his 20-page defense, Mr. Arroyo claimed that the charges against him were “replete with innuendos, speculations and false assumptions.”

He denied that he threatened Jose de Venecia III for trying to bid for the NBN project.

Abalos was accused of graft in six of the seven cases while Mr. Arroyo was respondent in four. (PhilStar)

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