NBN-ZTE deal whistle-blower Rodolfo Lozada Jr. failed to show up at Thursday’s Sandiganbayan hearing into the graft charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the anomalous $329-million broadband deal he helped expose.
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division reset the proceedings to Jan. 30 next year after Lozada’s lawyer told the court his client had a cold and fever and thus could not come to the trial.
Lozada is the second prosecution witness against Arroyo, after Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño.
Casiño on Wednesday told the court he had no personal knowledge of the acts of graft allegedly committed by Arroyo but that he and the other complainants had based their complaint on the Senate blue ribbon committee findings on the NBN-ZTE deal.
Casiño was one of the original complainants for plunder against the accused in the Office of the Ombudsman in September 2011. The other complainants were former Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chair Carol Araullo.
Casiño’s testimony prompted head defense lawyer Jose Flaminiano to say it was based on hearsay.
Grilled further by Flaminiano, Casiño admitted he did not see any exchange of money between Arroyo and ZTE Corp. executives in China.
He said he was making an appearance as a complainant and not as a witness to alleged bribery.
“There will be witnesses who will have personal knowledge (of it),” he said.
Casiño said Lozada was one of those who had personal knowledge of a bribe since he was involved in the packaging and approval of the contract.
He said other witnesses who also had personal knowledge of it were engineer Dante Madriaga, businessman Ruben Reyes and former National Economic and Development Authority head Romulo Neri.
Madriaga had testified in the Senate that former President Arroyo and her husband, former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, had received at least $20 million in exchange for approval of the contract.
Neri last week filed a motion to quash the witness subpoena issued against him by the Sandiganbayan, saying the antigraft court had no jurisdiction over the case. The former President had earlier filed a similar petition in the Fourth Division, which has yet to rule on the plea.
The Sandiganbayan subpoenaed Neri as a hostile prosecution witness after he testified in the Senate hearing that he was offered P200 million by former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos to approve the NBN-ZTE project that would have digitally interconnected all government offices throughout the country at the allegedly bloated cost of $329 million.
The first graft case filed by the Ombudsman against Arroyo accuses her of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly having a personal interest in the contract for personal gain, “despite knowledge of the irregularities and anomalies that attended its approval.”
The second graft case against her and her husband, Abalos and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza is for alleged violation of the same law which penalizes entering into contracts or transactions “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”
The third case filed against Arroyo accuses her of violating Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees for accepting a round of golf and lunch with ZTE executives in Shenzhen, China, while the NBN deal was pending final approval.
The former President is currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City in connection with a separate charge of electoral sabotage filed against her and Abalos by the Comelec. Abalos is detained at the Southern Police District headquarters in Taguig City.
In the Sandiganbayan First Division, Arroyo’s lawyers asked the court to order the Ombudsman to release the resolution that allegedly showed a “material difference” from the conclusions of the Ombudsman which had found plunder in the alleged P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) anomaly.
In a six-page motion, lawyer Anacleto Diaz asked the antigraft court to direct the Ombudsman to order the release of the Somido panel report.
On Nov. 14, 2011, the Ombudsman created a special five-man panel of investigators headed by Deputy Special Prosecutor Cornelio Somido to conduct a preliminary investigation of the case.
Diaz said the defense received the joint review resolution dated July 10, 2012, of the Office of the Ombudsman, but not the Somido panel resolution, which was reviewed, the motion said.
Arroyo’s camp said the Somido panel resolution did not form part of the records.
“She [Arroyo] received information, and so alleges, that the findings of the panel are materially different from the findings and conclusions of the Ombudsman … the panel found no sufficient evidence to support the crime of plunder,” the motion said.