GMA squelch talks of De Venecia’s ousting

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has moved to avert calls from administration allies in the House to unseat Speaker Jose de Venecia as she urged members of her political party, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, to avoid knee-jerk reactions over the controversial broadband deal.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said De Venecia and Mrs. Arroyo spoke privately for about 30 minutes at the Palace Wednesday night during a meeting of about 120 administration congressmen reportedly set up by the President’s son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

“What they basically discussed was to calm down the congressmen. The reason why they met was to show everybody that there is no bad blood between them, to calm people down, and to assure [them] that things are not taken personally,” Puno said at the Palace.

“It is not the time to engage in knee-jerk reactions in the organization of the House. Everyone is just starting to do his job and if we reorganize we lose the committees and lose focus and we need to start from scratch again,” he added.

A day after her Cabinet testified before the Senate on the broadband deal, Mrs. Arroyo urged her critics to stop politicking and trying to destabilize the government.

At a speech for National Crime Prevention Week, she said political stability reinforces economic gains and that the political noise around the controversial deal must stop.

Speaking to reporters at the Palace yesterday, Puno said while De Venecia cannot be held accountable for the allegations of his son, Joey, who implicated the President’s husband in a controversial government contract, he said the Speaker should be able to handle the situation.

“Whatever advice he wants to give to his son, he should give it directly but it should not affect us politically in Congress. I do not know how the Speaker can control a 44-year-old. It’s not like Joey is 17,” he said.

Puno said Mrs. Arroyo, being a mother of two lawmakers herself, is aware that not everything her children say in public has her blessing.

“But for the record, the attitude of the President toward the Lakas party, toward the [party] coalition in general, and toward the congressional leadership has not changed,” Puno added.

Puno declined to comment on the possible involvement of the Speaker on the bid offer made by his son through the company Amsterdam Holdings, something that is prohibited under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“That is a legal question. It requires evidence and proof. And if true, he [Speaker] should answer questions on that. There is a violation of the law here so there should be evidence of the same,” Puno said.

The president of Kampi, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, had earlier urged the Speaker to take a leave of absence pending the outcome of a congressional probe of the $329-million national broadband network deal bagged by ZTE Corp. of China.

“The very least that Speaker De Venecia can do is to take a leave of absence so that he cannot unduly influence the investigation,” said Villafuerte.

But Senate President Manny Villar advised caution in seeking De Venecia’s ouster.

“We should not be hasty in this matter,” he said, explaining that such a move could lead to Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment.

In the House, lawmakers seemed ready to accept the status quo, despite revelations that De Venecia tried to lobby in favor of his son’s bid for the national broadband network.

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez of Kampi said there was no plan to unseat De Venecia.

“Kampi will not add to the present confusion,” added Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing. “We have no plans to muddle the situation.”

In his testimony before the Senate, the younger De Venecia alleged that the President’s husband had told him to back off from the national broadband network project, apparently to ensure that ZTE Corp. got the deal.

Jose de Venecia III also accused Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos of brokering the deal and demanding hefty commissions for doing so.