Neda won’t share minutes of broadband info with Senate

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE –Acting Socio-Economic Plan Secretary Augusto Santos has turned down a request of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee for certain documents related to the national broadband network project on the ground that these could not be disclosed by virtue of executive privilege.

In a letter to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, Santos, also concurrent director general of the National Economic Development Authority, said he could not grant the former’s request for copies of the minutes of the Neda-Investment Coordinating Council’s meeting wherein the NBN project was discussed.

“Your request is covered by the executive privilege. The discussion is closed-door Cabinet and Neda meetings which are considered executive privilege and necessarily, the minutes of said closed-door meetings are also covered by executive privileges,” Santos explained.

This is the first time that Malacañang invoked the principle of executive privilege to reject a Senate request for documents that are needed for its inquiry into the government’s $329-million NBN contract granted to China’s ZTE Corp. which has already been cancelled by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The Neda chief’s refusal to submit the transcripts of the Neda-ICC meetings was another major blow to the Senate probe after former Neda chief, Romulo Neri, now chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, refused to elaborate on the President’s role in the approval of the broadband deal by invoking executive privilege.

Santos said that the NBN project is “not yet a finalized project” and it is therefore premature to release documents prior to the conclusion of all implementing agreements under the framework of an executive agreement.

The minutes of the Neda-ICC meetings were among the documents, which were subpoenaed from Neda by the Blue Ribbon committee, committee on trade and commerce and committee on defense in preparation for the resumption of the probe on the broadband controversy on Oct. 25.

The other documents subpoenaed were outline of events of the NBN project, timeline of projects from 2005 to 2007, historical events pertaining to NBN-ZTE project from ICC, Cabinet committee to Neda approval and track record of the government which has economic benefits—Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit.

Several other documents were subpoenaed by the Senate investigating panels from Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Undersecretary Lorenzo Formoso.

To break the impasse over the issue, the Senate is planning to go to the Supreme Court. But Senator Mar Roxas, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, said the issue will be elevated to the Supreme Court once this has ripened into a “justiciable issue.”

“But eventually, it will get there. There must be a rejection by the committee on a vote that we reject the invocation, we see the invocation as improper or the invocation here deals with matters not subject to what executive privilege can legally or properly be applied to.”