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Neri vs Senate

In April April 2007, DOTC entered into a contract with Zhong Xing
Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) for the supply of equipment and services for
the National Broadband Network (NBN) Project in the amount of $329,481,290.00
(approximately P16 Billion Pesos). The Project was to be financed by the People’s
Republic of China. The Senate passed various resolutions relative to the NBN deal.
On the other hand, Joe De Venecia issued a statement that several high executive
officials and power brokers were using their influence to push the approval of the
NBN Project by the NEDA.
Neri, the head of NEDA, was then invited to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon.
He appeared in one hearing wherein he was interrogated for 11 hrs and during
which he admitted that Abalos of COMELEC tried to bribe him with P200M in
exchange for his approval of the NBN project. He further narrated that he informed
President Arroyo about the bribery attempt and that she instructed him not to
accept the bribe. However, when probed further on what they discussed about the
NBN Project, Neri refused to answer, invoking “executive privilege“. In particular,
he refused to answer the questions on (a) whether or not President Arroyo followed
up the NBN Project, (b) whether or not she directed him to prioritize it, and (c)
whether or not she directed him to approve. He later refused to attend the other
hearings and Ermita sent a letter to the SBRC averring that the communications
between GMA and Neri is privileged and that the jurisprudence laid down in Senate
vs Ermita be applied. The SBRC cited Neri for contempt.
ISSUE: Whether or not the three questions sought by the SBRC to be answered
falls under executive privilege.
HELD: The oversight function of Congress may be facilitated by compulsory
process only to the extent that it is performed in pursuit of legislation.
The communications elicited by the three (3) questions are covered by the
presidential communications privilege.
1st, the communications relate to a “quintessential and non-delegable
power” of the President, i.e. the power to enter into an executive agreement with
other countries. This authority of the President to enter into executive agreements
without the concurrence of the Legislature has traditionally been recognized in
Philippine jurisprudence.
2nd, the communications are “received” by a close advisor of the President. Under
the “operational proximity” test, petitioner can be considered a close advisor,
being a member of President Arroyo’s cabinet. And
3rd, there is no adequate showing of a compelling need that would justify the
limitation of the privilege and of the unavailability of the information elsewhere
by an appropriate investigating authority.

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