MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed an earlier ruling against former Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri that declared him guilty of misconduct in connection with the aborted $329-million national broadband network deal with ZTE Corp of China.
In a 12-page decision penned by Justice Edwin Sorongon and concurred in by Justices Hakim Abdulwahid and Marlene Gonzales-Sison, the CA’s Sixth Division said that the Ombudsman was right when it rendered its guilty verdict on Neri. It junked Neri’s petition for review.
The court however downgraded Neri’s case from misconduct to simple misconduct. It also ruled that Neri was not liable for any corruption charges.
“The assailed Joint Decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dated April 21, 2009 is hereby affirmed with modifications in that…Neri is only held guilty of simple misconduct and is directed to pay a fine equivalent to his salary for six (6) months as penalty therefor,” the ruling said.
The NBN-ZTE deal was one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Whistle blowers Jun Lozada and Joey de Venecia linked Mrs Arroyo’s husband Mike to the deal.
The Ombudsman ordered Neri suspended for 6 months in 2009 for grave misconduct based on how he supposedly attended lunch meetings, among others, with former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos.
Neri was then Socio-Economic Planning Secretary, whose office was tasked to oversee big-ticket development projects of the government, while Abalos was said to have brokered the botched NBN-ZTE deal. Neri and Abalos were previously indicted for graft and bribery before the Sandiganbayan.
The Ombudsman held that Neri had a hand in the anomalous NBN deal. It denied subsequent appeals filed by Neri, prompting him to go to the CA.
“Lacking the elements of corruption and the intent on the part of petitioner (Neri) to violate or disregard the law, this court therefore finds petitioner liable for simple misconduct only,” the CA said. – Rappler.com