CA affirms ruling vs Neri in NBN-ZTE deal

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 13 2014 04:41 AM | Updated as of May 13 2014 12:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed its earlier ruling upholding the April 2009 decision of the Office of the Ombudsman that found former National Economic and Development Authority chief Romulo Neri administratively liable for the botched USD 329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. during the previous administration.

In a two-page resolution promulgated last May 5, the former sixth division of the appellate court denied the motion for reconsideration of Neri and stood firm on its decision finding him guilty of simple misconduct.

The CA ruling was penned by Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon.

The appellate court said Neri failed to raise “any fresh proposition or presented new evidence that would warrant a modification or reversal of the decision.”

In its July 3, 2013 ruling, the CA upheld with modification the decision of the ombudsman that found Neri guilty of grave misconduct for recommending the approval of the NBN deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. in 2007 despite bribery allegations that hounded the project.

The CA held there was no substantial evidence showing that Neri’s recommendation was “tainted with corruption.”

The Ombudsman had imposed a six-month suspension on Neri, but the appellate court downgraded it to just a fine equivalent to his salary for six months.

However, Neri still appealed the ruling and insisted he had no liability.

Records showed that Neri had introduced whistle-blower Rodolfo Lozada Jr. to former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, described in the CA decision as the person “highly interested in pursuing a telecommunications project with the government” during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Neri then processed the approval of the NBN project with ZTE as the proponent amid allegations that Abalos offered him a P200-million bribe.

The CA stressed that Neri should be liable for simple misconduct because of his attendance in social meetings with ZTE officials, considering his authority over the project’s approval.

With the CA affirming its findings, Neri’s camp may now elevate the case before the Supreme Court.