by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com
MANILA – Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. Monday declined calls for him to recuse himself from voting on the petition filed by Commission on Higher Education (Ched) Romulo Neri seeking to enjoin the Senate from compelling him to appear before its investigation into the bribery scandal involving the government’s multi-million dollar national broadband network (NBN) project with China’s ZTE Corporation.
In a statement, Velasco admitted that he had played golf with Neri and NBN star witness Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada at the Wack-Wack Country Club in Mandaluyong City but this happened only once, thus, should not be used as a basis for his inhibition.
Lozada earlier disclosed that Velasco and Neri were golf buddies and that he played one game with them.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Lozada uses this incident as basis for my inhibition in the NBN-ZTE case initiated by Secretary Neri before the Court. It is unfair to virtually question my objectivity and capacity to render a just and detached judgment in that NBN-ZTE case on account of a single round of golf. Rest assured that I will vote in the NBN-ZTE case fairly as I have done in all previous case,” Velasco said.
Velasco said Lozada’s allegations “devoid of truth since he and Neri were not actually golfmates but just mere acquaintances.
He recounted that he first met Neri sometime last year during one of the oath-taking ceremonies I was invited to in Malacanang.
Velasco said he was introduced to Neri, who was then the director general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), during the said event.
“During our very cordial but brief conversation, the subject of golf which both of us enjoy playing came up. We parted agreeing to play golf should the opportunity present itself,” he said.
A few months after, Velasco said Neri called him up and invited him to play at the Wack-Wack Country Club. He said it was there that Neri introduced him to two other flight mates, including Lozada.
“It was only on that occasion that I played golf with Secretary Neri. Surely that sole encounter at the golf course does not make as golfmates. Complete strangers often see themselves playing on the same flight. So the statement of Mr. Lozada depicting me as Secretary Neri’s golfmate is factually baseless, to say the least,” he said.
SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said no formal petition has been filed seeking Velasco’s inhibition from the NBN-ZTE case.
Meanwhile, the court en banc Monday denied the motion filed by Neri’s counsel Antonio Bautista for an extension of at least a week to file their memorandum on the case it filed against the Senate.
The SC, in a resolution last March 7, directed Neri and the Senate to file their respective memoranda within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice.