Byline: DAVID CAGAHASTIAN
President Arroyo yesterday revoked Executive Order (EO) 464, giving the go-signal for executive department officials to testify in the Senate investigation on the controversial $ 329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project and other similar congressional investigations.
But it would still depend on the Supreme Court whether former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Romulo Neri should reveal to the Senate information he withheld in previous Senate hearings regarding Mrs. Arroyo's directives to him when he told her of allegations of bribery and overpricing in the NBN project.
"Effective immediately, I am revoking EO 464. Executive officials may no longer invoke EO 464 to excuse non-attendance from legislative inquiries. Executive officials are instructed to abide by the Constitution, existing laws, and jurisprudence when invited to legislative inquiries," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.
Mrs. Arroyo made the decision at a meeting with influential religious groups at the Discovery Suites Hotel in Pasig City yesterday afternoon, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.
Bunye said the revocation of EO 464 implicitly grants officials of the executive branch President Arroyo's permission to attend congressional inquiries, and that they would now be able to act for themselves on whether to respond to invitations to testify in congressional investigations.
Bunye said Memorandum Circular 108, an offshoot of EO 464 and considered its implementing rules and regulations, is also deemed revoked.
The memorandum set guidelines for the appearance of executive officials in congressional inquiries, including requiring them to know the questions to be asked during the actual hearings before accepting invitations to testify.
Commenting on the Palace move, Vice President Noli de Castro said yesterday: "The abolition of EO 464 is a step forward towards the truth. I hope that all parties involved in the investigation shall act responsibly and with the highest regard for the national interest so that in the end, the truth will prevail."
Bunye said the revocation of EO 464 does not affect the executive privilege of the President which officials may still invoke in withholding information from Congress or the public, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on Neri's petition to stop the Senate from compelling him to testify again on the NBN project.
Neri testified in past the Senate hearings that he told Mrs. Arroyo of a P200 million bribe offer allegedly by former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. to ensure that the NEDA's policy of implementing the NBN project through a build-operate- transfer (BOT) scheme would be reversed to give way to a government-to- government loan agreement for an NBN telecommunications project with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. as contractor.
Neri said Mrs. Arroyo told him not to accept the money, then cited executive privilege in refusing to say what Mrs. Arroyo's additional directives were.
Neri, however, supposedly told confidants that Mrs. Arroyo told him not to accept the money, but approve the NBN project anyway, regardless of the alleged bribery and overpricing.
Mrs. Arroyo had admitted having known about the allegations of bribery and overpricing the night before she stood witness to the signing of the NBN project's supply contract, prompting many groups to call for her resignation over alleged inaction on the allegations.
Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo was complying to a demand of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) when she revoked EO 464, although the lifting of the executive order could hardly be considered a demand since some lawyers have said that EO 464 had already been rendered void by the Supreme Court.
The CBCP, in a pastoral letter after an emergency meeting last week, said Mrs. …