SC votes 9-6 in favor of executive privilege

From ABS-CBN News:

SC votes 9 to 6, rules Arroyo-Neri talks on NBN are secret

The Supreme Court today sustained the principle of executive privilege over Congress’ right to information, according to abs-cbnNEWS/Newsbreak sources.

Voting 9 to 6, the SC sustained former Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri’s defense that the Senate cannot force him to answer questions covered by executive privilege.

The ruling was penned by SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro.

This gives the Office of the President the upper hand in its protracted power struggle with the Senate on whether officials of the executive branch should appear in Senate hearings in aid of legislation.

The Senate is presently investigating allegations of irregularity in the $329 million NBN-ZTE contract, and the SC decision could prematurely put an end to the inquiry.

The ruling may also quash efforts by the opposition-dominated Senate to finally pin down President Arroyo to the anomalous deal, after revelations by witnesses that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and other close allies were dipping their hands into the project.

However, the Supreme Court voted 10 to 5 on whether the Senate’s arrest warrant and procedure on Neri were valid.

This means Neri will have to appear before the Senate but he cannot answer questions covered by executive privilege.

From GMA News:

It’s 9 vs 6: SC favors Neri’s plea vs ZTE probe – sources

In a 9-6 vote, the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the petition of Romulo Neri, former socio-economic planning secretary, to hinder the Senate from grilling him on the alleged anomalies in the $329.48-million National Broadband Network project with China’s Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment, Corp.

Two well-placed sources from the high court said that nine of the justices that included newly appointed justice Arturo Brion voted in favor of the petition, which sought the invocation of executive privilege in relation to Neri’s communication with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the botched NBN-ZTE deal.

The sources said that Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and associate justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Adolfo Azcuna were among those who went against Neri’s petition.

Neri, who filed the suit in his capacity as former director of the National Economic Development Authority, claimed that the three questions posed to him during his first and only Senate appearance last year were privileged communications covered by the principle of executive privilege and which can only be divulged during an executive session.

The three questions are whether the President followed up the NBN-ZTE project with Neri; whether he was told by the President to prioritize the NBN-ZTE project; and whether the President told him to go ahead with the project after learning of the massive bribe offer.

Neri’s invocation of executive privilege on these questions had prompted senators to cite him for contempt. The Senate also issued an arrest warrant against Neri after he refused to attend the inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal.

At the Palace, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Malacañang “respect(s) the decision of the Supreme Court.

“We hope that, looking forward, the Senate and the Executive can work out mutually acceptable rules on appearances in Senate inquiries in aid of legislation, which will guarantee the rights of resource persons and parties affected by congressional hearings, as stipulated by the Constitution,” he said.

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