Malacanang right to gag Neri upheld by SC

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — VOTING 9-6, the Supreme Court yesterday affirmed with finality its March 25 decision upholding President Macapagal-Arroyo’s use of executive privilege to prevent former National Economic Development Authority chairman Romulo Neri from disclosing at a Senate hearing their discussion regarding the controversial ZTE broadband deal.

The SC dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by the Senate Committees on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, Trade and Commerce, and National Defense and Security seeking the reversal of the Court’s March 25 decision.

In that ruling, the high court held that Neri correctly invoked executive privilege on whether or not Mrs. Arroyo followed up the NBN project, whether or not she directed him to prioritize it, and whether or not she directed him to approve it despite knowing of the alleged bribery involved in the deal.

The Court en banc did not give credence to the argument of the Senate that it disregarded the constitutional provisions on government transparency, accountability and disclosure of information when it upheld the legality of Neri’s invocation of executive privilege.

It explained that in upholding executive privilege with respect to the three questions, the Court did not in anyway curb the public’s right to information or undermined the importance of public accountability and transparency.

In fact, the SC said, its ruling did not stop the Senate from continuing with its investigation into the NBN-ZTE project but merely excludes from the scope of its investigation the three questions that elicit answers covered by executive privilege.

“Considering that the information sought through the three questions subject of this petition involves the President’s dealing with a foreign nation, with more reason, this Court is wary of approving the view that Congress may peremptorily inquire into not only official, documented acts of the President but even her confidential and informal discussions with her close advisors on the pretext that said questions serve some vague legislative need,” the SC noted.

It further noted that the right involved in the case is not the right of the people to public information but the right of the respondent committees to obtain information for the purpose of legislation.

The SC further observed that the thrust of the three questions is to trace the alleged bribery surrounding the NBN project to the Office of the President, which is not among the functions of the Senate.

It noted that the role of the legislature is to make laws and not to determine anyone’s guilt of a crime or wrongdoing.

Joining the majority opinion were Associate Justices, Leonardo Quisumbing, Renato Corona, Arturo Brion, Dante Tinga, Presbitero Velasco, Jr. Minita Chico-Nazario, Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Ruben Reyes.

Those who dissented were Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Antonio Carpio, Adolfo Azcuna and Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Saying he has never doubted the wisdom of the high tribunal, Neri, now chairman of the Social Security System, yesterday welcomed the court’s decision upholding its earlier ruling that he rightfully invoked executive privilege in the controversial $329 million national broadband network project with Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

“I have always put my trust in the collective wisdom of our Supreme Court. As I have said before, their decision upholds the rule of law and respect for human rights,” Neri said in a statement.