Neri fights suspension order

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — SOCIAL Security System president and chief executive officer Romulo Neri has filed a motion for the Ombudsman to reconsider its decision slapping him with a six-month suspension without pay for misconduct.

The Ombudsman filed graft charges against Neri and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. for their alleged involvement in the controversial $329-million NDSBN-ZTE broadband network deal.

Neri, through his lawyer Paul Lentejas, described the decision as “unfair and has no basis in evidence but on mere assumptions and presumptions.”

In its decision, the Ombudsman cited an alleged bribe offer by Abalos to the former director general of the National Economic Development Authority. Neri revealed in a Senate inquiry that then election official had told him during a golf game, “Sec may 200 ka dito.” He said he understood meant he would get P200 million if the ZTE deal would be approved by NEDA.

Neri said he was surprised by what Abalos said and chose to ignore it.

But the Ombudsman said Neri did not categorically turn down the offer or say no pointing out that “ignoring a bribe offer and saying no to it are completely different.”

Malacanang remains confident of the loyalty of Neri who had expressed hurt over his suspension by the Ombudsman.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said President Macapagal-Arroyo appreciates that Neri has been “very loyal” to her in the same way the latter enjoys her trust and confidence.

Golez said the President is not worried that Neri would turn his back on her. “Natanong na yan noong 2007 kung natatakot ang Palasyo.. paulit-ulit naming sinasabi wala po kaming nakikita na may tinatago si Secretary Neri,” he said.

He also maintained there is nothing to link either the President or First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the scandal pointing out that they have been cleared by the Ombudsman.