Mike A’s accuser not ready to face probers

- Aurea Calica -
Resigned presidential correspondence secretary Veronica "Bing" Rodrigo is not ready to discuss with senators her accusation that First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo received a P50-million bribe from two telecommunications firms.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he needs to meet Rodrigo and discuss her testimony before he can formally seek a legislative inquiry on the controversy.

"We have no evidence yet and that is why we are in a difficult situation," Pimentel said of Rodrigo’s claim that the First Gentleman pocketed P50 million from two companies.

Rodrigo claimed Philippine Communications Clearinghouse Inc. (PCC) and APC Wireless Interface Network (WIN) paid the First Gentleman to persuade President Arroyo to reverse her veto of the franchise of the telecom firms.

But Pimentel said Rodrigo was not ready to talk although he stressed that she remained willing to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

"Unless I have evidence, I am not going to file anything. Otherwise we become a very irresponsible opposition," Pimentel said.

Meanwhile, lawyers identified with jailed former President Joseph Estrada have reportedly offered legal advise to Rodrigo in an apparent effort to fire another salvo of the opposition’s so-called "Guns of August."

Although the President herself is not under suspicion, the opposition has insisted on an investigation of the First Gentleman’s involvement in the controversy which they have called "Arroyo-gate."

"Mr. Arroyo’s lawyers and public relations handlers are secretly meeting with Ms. Rodrigo to prevent her from testifying and settle their differences," said lawyer Jesus Crispin Remulla of Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino.

"But we urged her not to be cowed by such pressures and live on with the tradition of her father’s integrity," Remulla said. Rodrigo is the daughter of late Sen. Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo, an ally of Mrs. Arroyo’s late father, President Diosdado Macapagal.

But Rodrigo supposedly turned down the offer and sent word to the President that she will not allow herself to be used by the opposition but stressed she would not retract her accusation.

Palace sources told The STAR Rodrigo made the assurance to the President through "prayer partners" who served as emissaries now trying to patch up differences between Rodrigo and the President.

The President and Rodrigo are both religious women who grew up and went to the Assumption College together.
Desierto includes GMA in probe
At the same time, Ombudsman Aniano Desierto said Mrs. Arroyo will be included in the "fact-finding" investigation on Rodrigo’s allegations.

"It is the President who initiated the move so we can’t avoid na hindi siya isama kasi (not to include her because) we’re looking for the involvement of all government officials concerned," Desierto said.

He clarified, however, the Chief Executive’s inclusion in the probe would only be for "fact-finding" purposes, adding they would also determine if they have jurisdiction over the First Gentleman, who is neither an elected nor appointed official.

Desierto stressed that graft probers cannot conduct a preliminary investigation against the President, who is an impeachable official immune from suits while in office.

Desierto, nonetheless, formed a three-member team to determine probable cause to charge any official involved in the controversy.

The team, composed of graft investigator Ray Roque Dator, Ferdinand San Joaquin and Luisito Suarez, was given one week to finish the probe.

"We will conduct an inquiry if any public official is involved. If it turns out that these are just private citizens, then we have no jurisdiction," Desierto said.

But Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said members of the 11th Congress should also prepare to be included in the Ombudsman’s probe.

Tiglao said the President ordered on Friday Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Avelino Cruz to provide Desierto certain documents concerning the franchise of the two telecom firms, possibly including the results of an internal Malacañang investigation

The President ordered the internal probe after Rodrigo resigned her position as correspondence secretary. Rodrigo resigned last month purportedly to take care of her daughter.

But the First Gentleman, in a radio interview, said a "secretary resigned because of the alleged receipt of P50 million bribe for the vetoed franchise bills that were never rescinded."

The President vetoed the franchise bills of PCC and WIN, which allegations said was nominally owned by a certain Pacifico Marcelo but actually owned by Estrada crony Jaime Dichaves.

Palace sources told The STAR one of Rodrigo’s brothers, King, is supposedly a lawyer of PCC but is identified with the Estrada camp.

But Bing is reportedly closer to another brother, Boogie, who is identified with the anti-Estrada groups.

Bing is also an in-law of Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) head Secretary Gabriel Claudio, who endorsed the veto of the franchise bills as recommended by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Claudio had earlier confirmed it was Bing who referred to his office DOTC consultant Malou Nuñez, who allegedly directly lobbied for the recall of the presidential veto.

Claudio said Nuñez came to his office with a letter from former House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, now Quezon City mayor, asking for the recall of the veto.

Belmonte had earlier confirmed that his office indeed received a letter from Nuñez but stressed that he never met Nuñez much less talked with her about the vetoed franchise bills.

Claudio also stressed the First Gentleman, Belmonte or Rodrigo never discussed with him the recall of the veto.

However, Claudio admitted speaking only with a certain Mrs. Araneta, who supposedly represented one of the telecom firms, and former Romblon Rep. Eleandro Madrona, who is now Romblon governor, about the veto recall.

But, on both occasions, Claudio said he told the two that he could not do anything because only Congress could override the vetoes.
‘Much ado over nothing’
For his part, Rep. Prospero Pichay (Lakas, Surigao del Norte) said he does not believe the First Gentleman accepted a bribe in exchange for working for the recall of the vetoes.

"Any high school student knows that a presidential veto can only be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate. So why would anyone bribe Mike Arroyo when he was powerless to do anything to lift the veto?" Pichay asked.

Pichay stressed even the President herself could not recall a veto once she transmits it to Congress.

Sen. Ralph Recto also challenged Rodrigo to plug loopholes in her testimony and not subject the First Gentleman to a trial by publicity.

"Rodrigo never narrated how she knew of the alleged bribery, where, when, and how it was allegedly executed and by whom," Recto said.

"All that there is to it is her accusation despite the fact that she herself admits being with the person who allegedly tried to facilitate the anomaly in question," he added.

The senator also said Rodrigo should explain why she denounced only the First Gentleman when she earlier claimed three other people were involved in the alleged bribery. – With Marichu Villanueva, Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz, Mayen Jaymalin











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