MANILA, MARCH 4, 2008 (STAR) By Michael Punongbayan - The United Opposition (UNO) asked the Senate yesterday to investigate allegations that President Arroyo signed an agreement allowing China to conduct exploration in Philippine territorial waters.

“The so-called Spratly Deal is a matter of serious concern not only for the Senate, but for all Filipinos,” said Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, UNO president.

Binay said if Mrs. Arroyo indeed signed such an agreement, as alleged by detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, it becomes clear that Mrs. Arroyo is willing to surrender the country’s sovereignty.

“Mrs. Arroyo is willing to surrender our sovereignty for the chance to get kickbacks and build a formidable war chest for whoever will be the anointed candidate in 2010,” he said.

“The administration candidate will be funded by money that had been exchanged for our sovereignty.”

Binay said a Senate investigation would put the ZTE-NBN scandal, as well as the Northrail and Southrail projects, in proper perspective.

“The Senate would no longer need to hold separate probes into the statement of Jun Lozada that the Northrail and Southrail deals were also tainted by corruption since these could be investigated as part of a probe into the so-called Spratly Deal,” he said.

Trillanes has asked the Senate to investigate the Spratly Deal which was exposed by newspaper publisher Amado Macasaet.

Quoting Macasaet, Trillanes said Mrs. Arroyo might have committed treason if she signed the deal which allows China to conduct exploration in Philippine territorial waters.

Officials of the Navy and the Department of Foreign Affairs who raised the question of sovereignty were ignored, Macasaet said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman, said he was not in favor of creating a sub-committee to investigate the Southrail project, as proposed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

“We want to make sure that we handle the hearing one at a time at a proper time,” he said.

“If you ask all of the senators here, some would like to first investigate the Northrail, while others would like to take on Southrail.

“Let me just assure my colleagues, we will come to that (investigation of the Southrail). The quality of the Senate inquiries are important, and that it’s important that the Senate remains well-balanced in doing its job.”

Cayetano said the investigations into the Southrail project can be done from Thursdays to Saturdays.

“I am not the one who is going around the country during these days,” he said.

“Much less I am no presidentiable, and I am not running for the 2010 presidential elections.”

It is Cayetano’s prerogative to schedule the hearings on resolutions pending before his committee.

Among those resolutions yet to be tackled are the Southrail and Northrail projects, the cash giving at Malacañang last year as exposed by Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio, and the supposed anomaly at TransCo.

“We don’t get the result and the quality that we want,” Cayetano said.

“Since we have started the ZTE hearings, and now that we are in the middle of the meat of all these, why don’t we just wait for two to three more hearings, wrap up the investigation first.” – With Christina Mendez

Law dean castigates senators for passing off innuendoes as facts in ZTE investigation

MALACANANG -The dean of the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College castigated today some senators investigating the National Broadband Network (NBN) controversy for passing off to the public innuendoes as facts and for posing as impartial investigators and judges contrary to the reality.

In a three-page paper titled Why I Cannot and Will Not Support Calls for the President’s Resignation, Fr. Ranhillio Callangan Aquino pointed out that “when one protests his earnestness in search of the truth, and at the same time presses for the resignation of the President (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), one is guilty of ‘performative contradiction.”

“If you search for the truth, you do not yet know whether or not she is guilty. But if you do not know this yet, what reason is there to ask her to resign?” Fr. Aquino retorted.

He said that while the testimony of Senate witness Rodolfo Lozada was rich in many details, it contained “not a single incriminatory statement against the President.”

“There are innuendoes that the deal was known to, if not brokered, by some Malacanang personalities, but innuendo is never evidence, and when we take so serious a move as urging the people to press for the resignation of the President, such a call must, by all moral precepts, rest on moral certitude!” Fr. Aquino said.

He asserted that Lozada’s testimony would surely fail the test of judicial admissibility.

The San Beda College of Law dean said it must be understood that the Senate investigation is ”supposed to be in aid of governmental oversight, not in pursuance of prosecution and trial.”

Given that legislative purpose, are “we prepared to ask for the resignation or ouster of a duly constituted authority – and all the institutional upheaval that this entails – on the basis of such unacceptable evidence as hearsay?” Fr. Aquino asked.

He said that Lozada has never been cross-examined because congressional investigations do not call for cross-examination “and cross-examination is the test of credibility and veracity of testimony.”

Saying he is not an apologist for the President, Fr. Aquino argued it is best that the ZTE investigation be handled by the Ombudsman, which is vested with the authority to investigate “any public officer or employee, or office or agency.”

“I would like to hear the Ombudsman tell us whether or not there is probable cause in the first place because this, the Senate of its own cannot determine, nor does it possess the power to do so!” he said.

Fr. Aquino also said he was shocked by the “irresponsibility with which a lawyer and senator of the Republic, should judge the Ombudsman and dissuade the public from lending credence to the Ombudsman.”

The college law dean dismissed contentions that the Ombudsman and the justice secretary cannot be trusted to conduct an impartial investigation of the ZTE deal because they were appointed by the President.

“Were that so, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the associate justices of the High Court, the justices of all superior courts, judges of courts, members of constitutional commission – all would lack credibility because all are presidential appointees,” he said.

“Is it then our sad fate in this blighted Republic that only the senators are to be trusted? All the clowning that has taken place in the Senate thus far convince me otherwise: that it is one of the least credible institutions in this country,” Fr. Aquino added.

He said that because “most of the senators are political adversaries of the President,” they are “not the impartial investigators and judges that judicial proceedings call for.”

“The (Senate) witness answers as he is led by the questions. In court, most of these questions are characterized as ‘leading,’ and are disallowed in direct examination because they lead the witness to the kind of answer the proponent of the question – in this case, the senators – wish to elicit from the witness,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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