Lozada evades Senate arrest order

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Senate issues order but new ‘witness’ flies to London.

THE Senate yesterday ordered the arrest of Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri and Rodolfo Noel Lozada, Jr., Phil.Forest Corp. chief, for snubbing the probe on the alleged overpriced $329-million national broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Sixteen of the 17 members of the Blue Ribbon Committee signed the arrest order for Lozada while 13 members approved the issuance of a warrant to arrest Neri.

Those who want Lozada arrested were Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Mar Roxas, Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, Benigno Aquino III, Jamby Madrigal, Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Juan Ponce Enrile, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan, Francis Escudero, Ramon Revilla Jr., Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Those who approved Neri’s arrest were Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Mar, Roxas, Pia Cayetano, Benigno Aquino III, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan, Francis Escudero, Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.

“We will transmit this arrest order to the Office of Sergeant-at- Arms to carry out the order,” said Alan Peter, chairman of the committee.

Neri was the head of the National Economic and Development Authority when the NBN-ZTE contract was signed. He attended a public hearing last September wherein he confirmed that he was offered a P200- million bribe by then Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Jr. in exchange of his endorsement for the NBN-ZTE deal. He did not attend subsequent hearings.

Hours before the Senate issued its arrest orders, Lozada, the supposed new “witness” flew to London. The new star witness of Lacson took an 8:40 PAL flight to the US.

Clodualdo Penera, chief of the Immigration bureau’s Migration Compliance Monitoring Group, said Lozada was allowed to leave since he was not in the list of people with hold departure orders.

Lozada refused to answer questions of airport reporters.

An IT expert and friend of Neri, Lozada, backed out from testifying after allegedly receiving death threats. Only newspaper columnist Jarius Bondoc, who exposed the NBN-ZTE anomaly, attended the hearing.

It was Lacson who “found” Lozada through common friends. He said that Lozada was hired by Neri to evaluate projects that the government intends to pursue.

Lacson said Lozada had told him that Palace officials “advised” him to skip the hearing.

“I-se share niya kung paano ang overpricing. At papaliwanag niya ang aspect ng bribery. Pero ang balita ko kaninang umaga lumipad na siya patungong London siguro para hindi siya physically present at hindi siya ma-pressure mag-attend ng hearing,” he added.

Lacson said Lozada has assured him that he will return to resign from his post and eventually testify. “Pagtatagpitagpiin niya ang mga kulang na information. We had a series of meetings. Napakarami niyang siniwalat din na nagtatama sa mga naunang testimonies,” he said. Malacanang denied allegations that Lozada was sent abroad to keep him from attending the Senate hearing.

“I don’t know how they can attribute everything to Malacanang,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said at his weekly press briefing.

Ermita confirmed that Lozada is on official mission abroad but said the latter’s travel documents did not pass his office since it was approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.