The Supreme Court decision upholding the executive privilege invoked by Romulo Neri on three key questions asked of him by senators abruptly put an end to the Senate investigation on allegations of bribery and overpricing that attended the government’s national broadband network project. While many expressed dismay with the way the ruling has impeded the quest for the truth on the NBN deal, not a few also heaved a sigh of relief as the probe, with the way senators had been conducting it, appeared not to be headed for any resolution anytime soon.

But last week, the Senate announced that it might consider resuming hearings after a new witness surfaced to divulge that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo supposedly secretly met with officials of the Chinese firm ZTE Corporation in Shenzhen, China in November 2006, months before it bagged the NBN project. The witness, identified only as “Alex,” even came out with photographs of the President with her husband, the First Gentleman, playing golf at the Shenzhen Golf Club.

In case the investigation continues, what should come out of the hearings in order that we come to an appropriate closure to the NBN fiasco? We solicited the views of some people to put the situation in proper perspective.

The light at the end of the tunnel
by Malou Tiquia

ALMOST two months ago, the half-year long saga that is the ZTE-NBN deal came to a pause, with the congressional recess and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s decision to suspend the hearings in light of the recent adverse Supreme Court ruling on executive privilege.

Sifting through the heap of actions made by government — the Executive, the Senate, and the Supreme Court — with accompanying actions from civil-society organizations, the Church, and from citizens themselves, one issue becomes crystal clear: the imperative for accountability and transparency in all government transactions.

With the benefit of hindsight, we have seen institutional weaknesses meant to thwart the democratic precept of transparency and accountability of public offices. In the ZTE-NBN issue alone, we have seen how government attempted to hide illegal acts, moving heaven and hell to block alleged illegal government transactions from public scrutiny, and ensured that official wrongdoings are enveloped in legally-sanctioned secrecy to evade prosecution.

Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of a working democratic government. A well-informed citizenry will be able to actively participate in governance, making the notion “a government by, for, and of the people” closer in practice rather than in mere theory.

Government and State institutions (i.e. civil society-organizations, the Church, media, and the citizens themselves) have respective roles to play to make a democratic government work. The ZTE-NBN probe exposed certain institutional weaknesses in the various branches of government. Thus, drastic reforms across government branches must be implemented to address these weaknesses.

Legislative inquiries should have a clear purpose, which is to enact new laws and check the excesses of other branches of the government. Members of Congress should not use the legislative pulpit merely for political grandstanding. In the case of the Senate probe on the ZTE-NBN deal, the whole exercise should focus on policy reforms from procurement to defining executive privilege, as well as the delegation of authority from the President about entering into executive agreements.

On the minimum, these hearings should establish if the President knew of the interventions to get the contract and the “bribes” made and what she did with the information.

As long-term reform measure, the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, should come up with clear legislation which they should be sure to pass by the end of the term. They should adopt a rule where legislation emanating from inquiries in aid of legislation should be calendared within a quarter from the submission of the report to the Committee on Rules and be passed within a year from sponsorship. These measures should take the form of priority legislation.

Key government players in this issue, namely President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, Commission on Higher Education Chair Romulo Neri, Engr. Rodlfo Noel ‘Jun’ Lozada, and former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr., have their respective roles to play to restore the people’s faith in the democratic institutions.

For President Arroyo, she must now admit to the people what really happened behind the ZTE-NBN deal, and at what point did she become aware of the bribes.

Aside from this, she should also impose discipline on her family. The President must establish mechanisms for this, one of which is the creation of an independent commission to look into dealings and transactions covering the First Family and the members of the Cabinet. With the awesome powers of the presidency, she can promulgate a rule where any allegation, even mere allegations, of graft against her family should warrant the necessary filing of cases, to which the President will not interfere.

Aside from official measures to impose discipline in Executive rank, the President should also shame these people publicly. She should also ask her family up to the fourth degree of consanguinity to resign from any appointive or elective posts.

In the case of the First Gentleman, he should just leave the country and spare his wife’s government of further public lashings.

Neri, on the other hand, should tell all that he knows about the ZTE-NBN deal because his salary is paid for by taxpayers. If he remains quiet, he is abetting the regulatory capture by oligarchs even more. But if he is not willing to reveal all, then he should resign.

Finally, Abalos should tell the people why he resigned as Comelec chair and what really happened in 2004. But he should still be barred from accepting any government appointment, or allowed to seek public office.

The Supreme Court decision on executive privilege has opened a door for wrongdoings to be shielded from public scrutiny. Short of saying that the present Court is a captive audience of the appointing power, its recent decision may have inadvertently exposed its weakness when it comes to the President vis-a-vis her appointees. In this light, the Supreme Court should adopt a rule that any newly appointed justice cannot involve himself or herself in any pending case before the Supreme Court until after the lapse of 120 days. The newly appointed justice can be involved in the deliberation but he or she cannot exercise his or her right to vote.

Amid our criticisms and suggestions to make government work within the democratic framework, we will not spare our criticisms against civil-society organizations. These organizations should stop pretending to be “holier than thou.” They cannot be self-righteous now after being direct and active partners in planning for the unseating of a president in 2000. They should reveal what they know or did during the 2004 elections. They should respect the Constitution and they should refrain from insulting the intelligence of other people as well as from questioning their patriotism just because the other side is composed of politicians.

And for Jun Lozada, he should stop going around in tours and road shows like a common politician preparing for the 2010 elections. Instead, he and his colleagues from civil-society organizations and the Church should focus on putting together the paper trail, as well as the money trail, to buttress their allegations and finally bring these corrupt officials to the bar of justice.

Further, churches should stop receiving government funds since they do not pay any taxes. Members of the clergy should guide their flocks according to the teachings of the Church, not curry favors. They should counsel a President, not side with him or her. These people should walk their talk.

Members of the media should not only report the bad but also give space for good news. Media should stop hyping up news, remove the slant, be factual, and let the readers determine the truth in every assertion. They should adopt a policy that they will not use their pages for the political advantage of anyone, unless they allot a space or two as protest or “freedom” pages.

Finally, responsible citizenship does not end in casting one’s ballot and then leaving elected officials to run amok with power. It is important for citizens to engage in public affairs by electing their leaders; it is equally, if not more important for citizens to remain engaged in public affairs after elections. To make a democratic government work, citizens should scrutinize, monitor, and expose government anomalies, and tie this up with booting out an incompetent and corrupt elected official. They should express their disgust in whatever manner so long as they don’t become a public order issue.

How then will the Filipino people find closure in this saga?

That is for the whole government machinery to institute long-term reforms to ensure transparency and accountability. It should start with key government stakeholders doing the right thing, which is telling the truth. If Abalos resigned without admitting anything, the President should do a Spitzer, instead of destroying all the institutions of this country. If she does not resign, the people should express their disgust via the ballot and ensure the total rejection of anyone associated with the Arroyos. This should hold true for any leader who abhors being accountable and transparent in his or her ways.

Malou Tiquia is the co-founder of Publicus, a lobbying and political consulting firm.

3 Responses to The light at the end of the tunnel



May 25th, 2008 at 4:18 am


My hat is off for you.

Light at the end of the tunnel is still dim and the concept of public accountability is still a mirage.

Members of the SC, Legislative and Executive Departments belong to that social insects I called “Termites”. They gnaw the very foundation of our democtactic instititions and nibble our moral fiber.



May 25th, 2008 at 4:26 am


I admire your post, but I am skeptical about your designation as a co-founder of Publicus, a lobbying and political consulting firm.

Your hidden agenda, after all is not hidden.


nosi balasi

May 25th, 2008 at 3:18 pm

the light at the end of the tunnel…asa pa kayo.
this is the reality…the government institutions are weak…and their ability to lead is blinded by too much hunger in power. we cannot simply say…stop this or should end this…for me…there is only two ways to have this stopped or to put this to an end…change the leadership or change the Country…the latter is impossible…but to change the leadership is very possible…if that happened…all the presidential appointees from the executive and judiciary will no longer protect the interest of the person who appointed them or will think twice (not because they finally have conscience) but they will be afraid of losing their jobs/ or branded as collaborator.

as the post says: In the ZTE-NBN issue alone, we have seen how government attempted to hide illegal acts, moving heaven and hell to block alleged illegal government transactions from public scrutiny, and ensured that official wrongdoings are enveloped in legally-sanctioned secrecy to evade prosecution.

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