JdV consultant linked to impeach rap

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A CONSULTANT to House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. has been accused of offering congressmen P1 million to P2 million to endorse an impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, sources said.

In a privilege speech yesterday, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran said Francis Ver, identified as the deputy secretary general of the President’s own Kampi party, offered him P2 million to endorse the complaint.

But sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Ver was no longer part of Kampi and served as a consultant to the speaker since the start of the 14th Congress.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Kampi chairman, dismissed accusations that his party was behind the bribery attempt.

“There is nothing more ridiculous you can think of than to go to the cause-oriented groups in Congress and offer them bribes,” Puno said. “That is the most insane thing that I have ever heard.”

He also disavowed any relation between Ver’s actions and Kampi.

“You can refer to him now as the ex-deputy secretary general,” Puno said.

Bayan Muna spokesman Vince Borneo, meanwhile, said Ver worked for Deputy Speaker for Women Amelita Villarosa of Mindoro, who is closely associated with the speaker.

Contacted by phone, Ver denied offering any bribes, but his links to the speaker spelled further trouble for De Venecia Jr., who faces graft and ethics charges for allegedly using his position to favor the telecommunications business of his son, Jose de Venecia III.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago yesterday advised De Venecia to go on indefinite leave while the Ombudsman investigates graft charges against him.

Santiago’s advice came a day after lawyer Roel Pulido filed a graft complaint against the speaker and his son, accusing the father of lobbying on behalf of his son’s bid to build a national broadband network for the government.

“He should at least go on temporary and indefinite leave of absence to erase any doubt that, in his official position, he may try to influence the outcome of the case,” she told reporters before presiding over a hearing on the budget proposals of a number of agencies, including the Ombudsman.

In his complaint, Pulido accused the speaker of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by allegedly concealing his son’s financial interest in Multi-Media Telephony Inc., which was granted a legislative franchise during his second term as House leader.

De Venecia III was also charged with applying for and obtaining a legislative franchise in violation of anti-graft laws that prohibit relatives of high-ranking government officials from intervening in any government contract.

The speaker is also under investigation by the House ethics committee, but he has rejected calls to go on leave.

Pulido said De Venecia Jr. should be held criminally liable for his “indispensable cooperation” that allowed his son to illegally intervene in the government’s national broadband network deal.

Santiago, a former judge, said there was probable cause for the Ombudsman to investigate the complaint.

“In light of the public admission of both the speaker and his son, in the Senate hearings, I just don’t see what other evidence they can allege against the arguments of the complaint, which are all based on public statements,” she said.

Santiago pointed out that under the law, any relative up to the third civil degree of the speaker could not intervene in any government transaction.

“Speaker De Venecia will have difficulty getting out of the circumstance that his son applied for a legislative franchise from the House of Representatives while his father was the speaker, so that conclusion cannot be helped that it was initiated directly or indirectly by the speaker, which is another separate criminal offense,” she said.

De Venecia Jr. yesterday said he believed the ethics and graft complaints filed against him were aimed at driving a wedge between him and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

His lawyer, Raul Lambino, accused the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino or Kampi of being behind moves to oust the speaker. Kampi officials have denied the charge.

Puno acknowledged that a rift has developed between the ruling Lakas party under De Venecia and the President’s Kampi party.

“This is really a very disturbing thing,” he said. “The speaker and I are on the best of terms…. You will remove the speaker over my dead body.”