Testify vs Arroyo, court orders Neri
MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan has ordered with finality former socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri to take the witness stand and testify against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the graft case related to the $329-million ZTE broadband network deal.
In a seven-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division said that Neri’s rights “will not be railroaded despite facing his own graft case related to the bungled telecommunications deal.”
“There is really no issue that Neri has the absolute, immutable, and unconditional right to remain silent,” read the resolution, which junked the motion for reconsideration filed by Neri.
Neri earlier opposed the subpoena issued against him by the court.
He argued that he is facing a graft case at the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division and that answering questions from prosecutors would hurt his right against self-incrimination.
In its previous ruling, the Sandiganbayan already denied Neri’s plea. Neri then filed a motion for reconsideration where he reiterated his position, however, to no avail.
“The subject motion for reconsideration is bereft of merit,” the court noted in its final ruling.
The Sandiganbayan magistrates, lifting jurisprudence from the Supreme Court, differentiated between an ordinary witness and an accused sitting at the witness stand.
An accused, as a prosecution witness, occupies a different tier of protection from an ordinary witness, the Sandiganbayan said.
The court explained that, on one hand, an ordinary witness might be compelled to take the witness stand and raise privilege against self-incrimination when a question is asked him.
On another, an accused “may altogether refuse to take the witness stand and refuse to answer any and all questions.”
“In the case [of Arroyo], although accused Neri is a defendant before the Fifth Division, he is not, however, an accused [in the Arroyo case]. As such, he is being called therein merely as an ordinary witness,” the resolution read.
Apart from former president Arroyo who is now a representative of Pampanga, the other co-accused are former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos, former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, and former transportation secretary Leandro Mendoza.
The magistrates ruled that as an ordinary witness, Neri cannot rightfully refuse to take the witness stand or refuse to participate in the direct examination of prosecutors.
It added that they cannot grant Neri’s plea to first drop him as an accused in his case and turn him into a state witness before he testifies against Arroyo.