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Ombudsman, Solgen hit for 'feeble' actions on ZTE mess

February 16, 2008 9:57am

Former solicitor general Francisco Chavez has criticized the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the Office of the Ombudsman for their alleged "feeble" actions on the scandal involving the government's $329.48-million National Broadband Network project with China's ZTE Corp.

He claimed the OSG "suddenly" cleared government officials linked to the alleged abduction of Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr, the key witness in the Senate inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal, while the Office of the Ombusdman "belatedly" subpoenaed personalities linked to the allegedly anomalous deal.

"No business ang SolGen to clear anybody in an alleged kidnapping. How can you clear anybody of these alleged crimes na walang kaso? That is a declaration already of the position of government (The Solicitor General has no business clearing anybody in an alleged kidnapping, particularly as no one had been formally charged yet. If this is the case, that is a declaration already of the government's position)," Chavez said in an interview on dzRH radio Saturday.

Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera earlier said that she found no evidence that Lozada was abducted upon his arrival from Hong Kong last February 5.

Devanadera made the pronouncement on Friday, following an inspection of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), where she retraced the route taken by Lozada and his abductors.

According to her, Lozada had all the chances to alert other passengers at the airport if he was indeed forcible taken out of the NAIA.

Also, Chavez questioned Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on why she issued subpoenas for individuals linked to the ZTE controversy only Friday — during the height of mass actions of some 10,000 people in Makati City that called for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Gutierrez had issued subpoenas for Lozada, the President's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, Romulo Neri, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr and his son Jose III, and Benjamin Abalos Sr, former chairman of the Commission on Elections.

Chavez likewise questioned the Ombudsman's alleged continued inaction on other cases involving Palace "cronies," such as Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, former agriculture undersecretary.

The Senate had sought the arrest of Bolante over his role in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam allegedly meant to divert fertilizer funds for the 2004 campaign kitty of then presidential candidate Gloria Arroyo.

"Katawa-tawa na ito (This is getting funny)," Chavez said.

For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Ombudsman's timing was suspect, noting that it was only now that it acted on a suit filed by lawmakers led by Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros.

"Bakit di kumilos noon? Ngayon medyo ipit ang witness biglang sulpot. Doon lang medyo makakabuo tayo ng judgment (Why did the Ombudsman not act before? It's only now that when things are getting hot for the witness that the Ombudsman acted. You can draw your conclusions from there)," Lacson said in a radio interview.

Lacson also said he sympathized with Dir. Gen. Avelino Razon Jr, chief of the national police.

He said Razon was forced to lie without being briefed on the background of the NBN controversy.

"Matinong official, professional, under sa akin. Siya ang tagasalang, kaya nahirapan siyang mag-explain sa bagay na di niya alam ano ang pinagmulan. Hirap siyang mag-explain. Yan ang problema pag memorya mo kasinungalingan (He's a professional policeman when I headed the PNP. Now it appears he is being made a shock absorber and made to explain things he has no idea about. He is finding it hard to explain, that's the problem with being told to memorize a lie)," he said.

"Magaling ang nagha-handle ng PR work sa Malacañang, saludo ako (Malacañang is really good at PR handling. I would almost salute them for that)," he added.

Meanwhile, Malacañang asked the public to give Gutierrez a chance to conduct an independent investigation into the NBN-ZTE deal.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Gutierrez, a classmate the President's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, should be given at least the benefit of the doubt that she would be able do her job.

"May order ang Ombudsman, masasabi natin sa ilalim ng batas may kapangyarihan ang Ombudsman na magsiyasat nang independiyente (We can presume that the Ombudsman can conduct an independent investigation)," said Bunye. - GMANews.TV
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