MANILA, Philippines – Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri is set to testify on Wednesday in the graft trial of former Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos in connection with the scrapped US$329 million ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) deal.
It will be second time that the prosecution will try to start presenting evidence after the deferment ordered by the Sandiganbayan 4th Division last October 6 at Abalos’ request.
The former Comelec chief is accused of unlawful intervention in the negotiations for the NBN project by allegedly brokering for Chinese firm, Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment Inc. (ZTE).
Prosecutors are hoping to jumpstart their case by presenting Neri, the former director-general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).
He earlier told a Senate inquiry that Abalos offered him a P200-million bribe to secure NEDA's endorsement of the ZTE bid.
Abalos has denied the accusation, saying he knew ZTE officials only because they share an interest in golf.
Neri's testimony is expected to consume all the time available for the hearing.
Prosecutors have also subpoenaed University of the Philippines-College of Law professor Harry Roque and newspaper columnist Jarius Bondoc.
Neri's counsel, Paul Lentejas, earlier already announced that his client will not take part in an inquiry by the Truth Commission headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.
Lentejas explained that Neri has already been arraigned for his own graft case at the Sandiganbayan 5th Division.
Anything he might divulge to the commission could be self-incriminating, the lawyer added.
Lentejas, however, has not ruled out Neri testifying against Abalos.
He said his client “will consider it at the proper time.”