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Palace: Arroyo ‘relieved’ by San Miguel testimony

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‘We didn’t influence surprise witness’

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 16:18:00 03/12/2008

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo breathed a sigh of relief on learning that businessman Leo San Miguel testified to knowing nothing about any kickbacks that allegedly accompanied the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) contract with China’s ZTE Corp., Malacañang said Wednesday.

At the same time, the Palace belied Senator Panfilo Lacson’s claim it had influenced the testimony of San Miguel, who the lawmaker had touted as a “surprise witness” in the Senate’s investigation into the allegedly graft-ridden national broadband network (NBN) deal.

“For one, si President [ay nagsabing], ‘Hay naku mabuti naman. Hindi namaan magkakagulo, pag-uusapang bagay, kung ano ba sinabi ng whistleblower [For one, the President said, ‘Oh, good. There will be no more trouble, something to talk about, what the whistleblower said],” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita quoted Arroyo as saying.

“Syempre, nagpakita siya [Arroyo] ng kagalakan na si San Miguel e ganun ang naging position at walang napatunayan ma maaring makadagdag pa sa pighati, pagpipighati ng Malacañang, dahil sa mga sinasabi ng mga naunang mga [Of course, she showed joy at the position San Miguel took and there was no evidence that would have added to the anguish, the suffering of Malacañang, because of what the previous” witnesses said, Ermita added.

Contrary to what Lacson hoped, San Miguel denied any direct knowledge of the alleged cash advances from ZTE to a “greedy group” that allegedly included himself, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband, Jose Miguel, and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos Sr.

“I don’t see how Malacañang can have access to this guy [San Miguel]. You saw how he was grilled for many hours,” Ermita told a news conference at the Palace.

Chiding Lacson, Ermita said: “It seems he was expecting an answer, and when it didn’t come out, he is crying estafa.”

On Tuesday, Lacson said San Miguel was overheard talking to a Palace official and a woman he addressed as “Ma’am” during Tuesday’s hearing.

Asked if Arroyo knew San Miguel, Ermita said: “I have no idea whatsoever.”

Ermita said he was in favor of making witnesses in the Senate investigation, including government officials implicated in the scandal, undergo a lie detector test.

“Why not if it [lie detector test] is really necessary? The important thing is the truth,” he said.

Arroyo scrapped the country’s $329-million dollar contract with ZTE for the NBN project after the Senate opened its inquiry into the allegations of overpricing and bribery surrounding the deal.

Reacting to reports on the presence of a Chinese communist party delegation in the country, Ermita said he confirmed with the Department of Foreign Affairs that the visitors are not in the country because of the NBN scandal alone.

“That is not the real purpose alone. It is interpreted as such because of the ongoing debate on the streets, because of the goings-on in the Senate, and what’s covered by mass media,” he said.

Ermita also acknowledged that “the Chinese government, I’m sure, would wish to have a feel for themselves, what’s the situation.”

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2008-03-12T09:21:12+00:00UTC03bUTCWed, 12 Mar 2008 09:21:12 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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