Nuñez clears Mike, blames text

- Marichu Villanueva and Sheila Crisostomo -
The alleged source of the information that First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo received a P50-million bribe for a telecommunications franchise said yesterday that she learned of the controversy only through text messaging.

Malou Nuñez, a former consultant of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), told ABS-CBN news anchor Korina Sanchez in a telephone interview that she has "absolutely no knowledge of any alleged bribery by any person" involving the franchise of the Philippine Communications Clearinghouse Inc. (PCCI).

"All I know is what I read in text messages. After that I have no first hand information," she said in her formal statement read over radio station dzMM.

Nuñez and Sanchez were schoolmates at St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City from elementary to high school. The two chatted for a while, with Nuñez telling the news anchor that she is abroad and "actually too far away from everything" and "not in touch with reality."

"I got bits and pieces of the news," she said. "It’s sometimes so hilarious how small things had been elevated to such heights. It is such a pity how people use such a small comment and make it huge."

Nuñez was initially tagged, on separate occasions by no less than President Arroyo, her presidential legislative liaison Gabriel Claudio and erstwhile correspondence secretary Veronica "Bing" Rodrigo as the DOTC consultant who lobbied for the reversal of a presidential veto on the PCCI franchise.

Nuñez categorically denied the accusation, saying she only "helped" a certain Pacifico Marcelo "verify the status" of the pending franchise at Malacañang.

"I went to Malacañang only once, talked to Secretary Gabriel Claudio through the intercession of Miss Bing Rodrigo," she said, adding that Rodrigo was a "close acquaintance" and "personal friend" of hers.

"My inquiry with Secretary Claudio was neither influenced nor was requested by anyone," she stressed. "At that meeting it was a fact confirmed that the telecoms franchise had been vetoed. Secretary Claudio further elucidated that a veto cannot be rescinded and that the bill would have to pass both houses of Congress again."

Nuñez said she "may have mentioned allegations regarding lobbying and possible bribery" to Rodrigo during their interactions but she said she received such information only from text messages.

And she said she never went back to Malacañang after meeting with Claudio. "I did not thereafter do anything involving the said telecoms franchise, much more lobby for it," she pointed out.

It was Rodrigo, a childhood classmate of the President and daughter of the late Sen. Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo, who first accused the First Gentleman of allegedly receiving bribe money from PCCI for its telecoms franchise.

However, she recanted her allegations and claimed that she only heard it from Nuñez and did not know of any evidence to pin Mr. Arroyo down.

Nuñez said she could not comment on what prompted Rodrigo to name her as the alleged source of the bribery information. "I consider (her) as a dear friend but I don’t think it is right for her to start pointing fingers at anyone," she said over radio.

The First Gentleman, who returned the other day from a brief vacation in the United States, has denied any misdoing and expressed willingness to undergo investigation.

For her part, the President expressed gratitude to Nuñez for her statement, but she said this should not stop the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Office of the Ombudsman from digging deeper into the issue.

"First of all I’m very grateful to Malou for the clarification but I still think the investigation should go on," she said.
‘Stop politicking’
Meanwhile, House national defense committee chairman Prospero Pichay urged the opposition yesterday to heed the President’s request for a one-year moratorium on politicking so as to give way to solving the nation’s urgent problems.

In a statement, Pichay said political issues like the bribery scandal involving the First Gentleman were a deterrence to effective governance. He said Mr. Arroyo was vindicated despite a smear campaign by some opposition members when those linking him to the controversy admitted they had relied only on text messages and other forms of hearsay for information.

"I call on the responsible opposition to heed the President’s call for one year of politics-free performance. Instead of politics, let’s focus on issues and constructive criticism that would help our country move forward," he said.

The lawmaker from Surigao lauded Sen. Aquilino Pimentel for having pledged not to file a resolution to investigate Mr. Arroyo until he has sufficient evidence that the First Gentleman was indeed involved in anomalies.

"There are many pressing concerns that we need to address, and we will need an effective partnership of all three branches of government to do so," he said. With Nestor Etolle

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