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EDITORIAL - Wrong message

() - September 4, 2009 - 12:00am

Romulo Neri has become an object of ostracism and will always be remembered for invoking executive privilege to protect evil. But the man who wants to take his secret to his grave should also be remembered for saying no to an alleged P200-million bribe. Businessman Joey de Venecia, son and namesake of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr., also testified that he said no to a $10-million offer in exchange for dropping his competing bid for a national broadband network contract with the government.

The younger De Venecia, who didn’t get the contract, as well as his father, who lost the House speaker’s post after his son blew the whistle on the case, may soon join Neri in the list of individuals facing criminal charges in connection with the aborted $329-million broadband deal between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Department of Transportation and Communications. DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, who signed the deal, his undersecretary who lost the original contract, President Arroyo who witnessed the signing, and her husband who allegedly told Joey de Venecia to back off from the deal were excluded from the charge sheet prepared by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Neri has been suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman for six months as administrator of the Social Security System. He is being penalized administratively, the Ombudsman said, for continuing to meet with the man accused of offering the massive bribes, resigned chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections. Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the Blue Ribbon committee which is finalizing its report on the scandal, has said the De Venecias should also be indicted for lobbying for the deal, while the President and the First Gentleman should be made to explain their roles.

Gordon knows he cannot compel the President to explain, and he has not pressed any effort to make the First Gentleman face the Senate. But Gordon knows he can recommend the prosecution of the De Venecias. Some see poetic justice here. This could also make sense legally; the De Venecias and Neri could later opt to turn state witness and spare themselves from prosecution. But sparing the rest of the key players in this scandal while indicting the whistle-blowers and those who actually said no to huge bribes could send the wrong message. The next time someone is offered a P200-million bribe, the thought of Neri’s fate will make acceptance of the money look like the best response.

BENJAMIN ABALOS OF THE COMMISSION BLUE RIBBON BUSINESSMAN JOEY BUT GORDON DE VENECIA DE VENECIAS DE VENECIAS AND NERI DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS FIRST GENTLEMAN NERI OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
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