A Scourge in the Arroyo House

The political stakes involved in the NBN fiasco are high that administration officials and their allies may just likely bury it.

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 34, September 30-October 6, 2007

Among the scoundrels in government, there is an unwritten rule that if the iron is too hot to handle, just drop it, and it will be business as usual. There is also the pervasive culture of cover-ups and sham investigations. Many quarters are expecting that the national broadband network (NBN) scam could trigger a split between the Arroyo camp and its erstwhile political allies led by House Speaker Jose de Venecia and former President Fidel V. Ramos and that this could even lead to a people power revolt.

Recent indications show no such thing will happen, as yet. As soon as the storm subsides, each party involved in the alleged scam will probably kiss and make up as if nothing happened. To insulate the President and her husband from the scam, it is likely that one of the parties allegedly involved, Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), will be made a sacrificial lamb. Whatever happens, all these will leave a country badly shamed by the dirt that has thickened on a government wracked by one scandal after another.

Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, son of the House speaker, blew the whistle on an alleged $10-million bribe try by Abalos months after his own company, Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. (AHI) lost to China’s Zhong Xing Telecommunications (ZTE) that was awarded the $329.5-million contract. The alleged bribe by Abalos, who is said to have brokered the deal, was meant to shove de Venecia out of the bidding, with Mike Arroyo, the President’s husband, warning him to “back off.” In a Senate hearing on Sept. 26, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairman Romulo Neri, confirmed that he was offered a P200 million bribe by Abalos. The money, reports indicated, was for Neri’s alleged endorsement of the contract with ZTE early this year or at the time he was still the economic planning secretary. The contract was signed last April in Boao, China by ZTE Corp Vice President Yu Yong and Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza. President Gloria M. Arroyo witnessed the signing.

Mrs. Arroyo at first flip-flopped on the new scam until she finally decided to cancel the contract along with another cyber project, also with a Chinese corporation. The NBN deal raised anew demands for an investigation of Mrs. Arroyo, who had given the green light for the project along with at least 20 other deals cut with the Chinese government this year.

Unnecessary and costly

The NBN project was meant to link government institutions and offices by broadband technology. The huge intranet was supposed to cut government spending in telecommunications by P3.6 billion every year. But academic experts say that either there is no need for such technology, which is appallingly costly, that there are actually under-utilized broadband backbones, or that the domestic private sector can handle it.
The project has all the makings of a colossal scam under the Arroyo presidency. [1] This is not only because it involves top government officials including the President and her husband but also of the sheer lack of transparency, the alleged overpricing, and pay-offs involved, as well as the possible quantum political implications. It also involves China, a former socialist state, whose corporations have earned notoriety for investing in large-scale projects in the Philippines that were clinched without satisfactory bidding and transparency. The Chinese firms’ projects have led to the wholesale demolition of slum populations and the imminent uprooting of farming villages and upland communities rich with mineral resources.

Abalos several times came under congressional inquiry over the mothballed P1.3-billion Automated Counting Machine contract with Mega Pacific. The contract that was to begin the modernization of the elections system was voided by the Supreme Court due to irregularities. There had also been calls for his removal by impeachment over widespread fraud involving the Comelec in recent elections. Now, for his questionable role in the NBN deal Abalos faces an impeachment complaint filed at the House Sept. 27 by former representative now Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico. The complaint, which was endorsed by three House members including Bayan Muna’s Teodoro Casino, charges the Comelec chair with culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and bribery.

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