MANILA, May 27, 2008 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Senators urged former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. yesterday to just testify before the Senate on the national broadband network (NBN) deal and stop threatening the administration.

“Former Speaker Jose de Venecia’s threats are not useful to our search for truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

“It would be better if he would just testify truthfully about the national broadband network-ZTE and other shady deals. His waiting for the right time might never come.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson expressed hope that De Venecia was not just taunting the administration to get back the speakership.

“I just hope he realizes how complicated this controversy is and he can contribute a lot in clarifying facts, details and information regarding the deal,” he said.

“I hope anytime he will come out. If he is free to testify, he should do so now because the truth knows no perfect timing. Anytime, even now, is perfect timing.”

De Venecia’s credibility will suffer if he would “do a Lozada,” Lacson said.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, committee on national defense chairman, said the public deserves to know what really happened to put in place proper legislative measures to avoid bribery and overpricing of government projects.

“Is there a correct time to do what is right?” he asked.

“What are we protecting, the government or an individual? The government is an institution, not one individual constitutes the government.”

“So it is up to Speaker de Venecia to do what is right. There is no right time to correct what is wrong, there is no right time to do what is right except today, now.”

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said De Venecia could be a credible witness but must make sure that he would have something. Opposition senators might only embarrass De Venecia if he would not be able to satisfy their queries, he added.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she sees no liability on the part of Mrs. Arroyo in playing golf and meeting with ZTE officials in Shenzhen, China, as De Venecia alleges.

De Venecia has more explaining to do because it was not his business to be visiting possible investors, she added.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman, called on De Venecia not to back off or “do a Neri.”

‘JDV’s testimony could backfire’

Malacañang warned De Venecia yesterday that his testimony before the Senate on the NBN project could “backfire” and lead to a “tragic ending.”

“It’s up to him (whether he should testify or not),” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

“It’s a free country but he must consider also that he is a congressman and a former Speaker, some people would say something about that and maybe that’s how he should assess his situation.”

He has suspicions about De Venecia’s motive in testifying before the Senate on an investigation that began about a year ago, Ermita said.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said De Venecia might be “put to task by the senators on many deals where he was or has perceived interests.”

“The appearance of JDV is a romantic idea that may lead to a tragic ending,” she said.

De Venecia’s threats to testify reminded her of the principle that “he who comes to court must come with clean hands,” Fajardo said.

However, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said he believes that De Venecia would not testify, and that his pronouncements were a “media blitz.”

“The Palace has no move yet. We are awaiting what will happen but we are confident that he will not testify,” he said.

“He has already reached the stage of being a statesman. He should not allow himself to be used by Cayetano and Lacson in their operations against the Palace.”

‘GMA has nothing to fear’

Speaker Prospero Nograles said yesterday Mrs. Arroyo “has nothing to fear” from De Venecia’s testimony.

“She has gone through worse crises than a possible JDV testimony in the Senate on the NBN-ZTE controversy,” he told reporters.

Nograles said De Venecia’s claim that his testimony could lead to the administration’s downfall is “just a figment of his imagination.”

Nograles warned De Venecia that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies might again take it against him if he offers damaging testimony.

“If you start throwing stones, people will throw stones back at you,” he said.

‘JDV must tell all’

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay called yesterday on De Venecia to reveal all he knows about the NBN-ZTE deal.

“The right time to speak about the NBN-ZTE scandal is now,” he said.

“This is a supreme opportunity for the former speaker to prove his sincerity in calling for moral recovery, and to do justice to the Filipino people at the same time,” he said.

Binay cautioned De Venecia that his hedging could lead to speculations that he is using the renewed interest in the NBN-ZTE project as a bargaining chip.

NBN probe resumes tomorrow

The preliminary investigation on the alleged anomalies in the NBN deal will resume before the Office of the Ombudsman tomorrow.

Witnesses in the Senate inquiry are expected to appear to affirm their testimonies.

Resigned environment official Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. and other key witnesses who were earlier summoned by the investigating panel of the anti-graft body have confirmed their appearance, according to lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr., one of the petitioners in four of the seven NBN-related cases.

Francisco said it is crucial for the Senate witnesses to affirm their testimonies since these will be more than enough to establish probable cause on the charges against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and other respondents.

“We are just in the preliminary investigation stage to determine probable cause,” he said.

“Their testimonies are more than enough to charge respondents before the Sandiganbayan.”

“Once this case goes to trial, I am confident that more evidence – both testimonial and documentary – would come out.”

Lawyer Ruy Rondain, counsel of Mr. Arroyo, said their camp does not expect anything big in tomorrow’s hearing.

‘JDV bluffing’

De Venecia’s threat to testify on the NBN deal is nothing but a “bluff” from a “sour-graping” vindictive leader who wants to exact vengeance on Mrs. Arroyo, according to lawmakers.

This was the unanimous stand taken by most of his former colleagues.

“JDV does not have any credibility anymore,” said Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra.

“Everything he says will just come out as sour-graping. Why didn’t he speak up when he was still speaker?”

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said “it’s no big deal,” and that it’s a “bluff.”

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said the issue would still boil down to vested interests, especially because De Venecia’s son Joey lost the NBN contract. – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay, Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edith Regalado, Christina Paguinto

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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