Ex-SSS chief Neri guilty of misconduct, rules court

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THE Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the “guilty” ruling for simple misconduct against  former Social Security System (SSS) president Romulo Neri in connection with the aborted $329-million national broadband network deal with ZTE Corp. of China.

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In a two-page resolution, the CA’s Sixth Division junked a motion for reconsideration filed by Neri and  private complainants in the case led by the late Fr. Joe Dizon.

Neri sought to reverse the guilty verdict against him while the complainants sought to increase the penalty against him, pointing out that Neri’s silence in the broadband deal was criminal in nature and it should not just be considered as simple misconduct.

The appelate court has upheld with modifications the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision finding him administratively liable for simple misconduct.

In the ruling penned by Associate Justice Justice Edwin Sorongon and concurred in by Justices Hakim Abdulwahid and Marlene Gonzales-Sison, the CA’s Sixth Division held that the Ombudsman’s office was right when it rendered its guilty verdict on Neri on the questioned resolution as it denied the petition for review filed by the former SSS head.

It said it had looked at issues raised by the parties, adding  that no new arguments were presented to warrant the reversal of the ruling.

In the earlier ruling, the CA said “the assailed joint decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dated April 21, 2009 is hereby affirmed with modifications in that Neri is only held guilty of simple misconduct and is directed to pay a fine equivalent to his salary for six [6] months as penalty therefor.”

The anti-graft office slapped a six-month suspension on Neri in 2009 for grave misconduct based on his supposed  attendance of lunch meetings, among other activities, with Benjamin Abalos in connection with the broadband deal.

Abalos, former chairman of  the Commission on Elections,  was said to have brokered the botched deal. He and Neri were earlier indicted for graft and bribery.

The Ombudsman held that Neri had a hand in the anomalous broadband deal.

For lack of substantial evidence, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Undersecretary Lorenzo Formoso, Assistant Secretary Elmer Soneja, and ZTE Corp. officials were cleared of wrongdoing in the deal.

Neri sought CA redress when his appeals with the Ombudsman were denied.

In the ruling, the appellate court also  held that Neri’s case lacks elements of corruption.

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