Philippines: Corruption scandal reaches the presidential palace

A backgrounder on the issue is provided by GMA news through this timeline:

April 2007: The Philippine government and ZTE Corp. of China entered into a US$ 329.5 million contract for a national broadband network (NBN) that will improve government communications capabilities.

August 29, 2007: A congressman disclosed in a privilege speech that Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos met with ZTE officials in China weeks before April 2007, apparently to broker for the NBN project:

August 30, 2007: Abalos denied brokering for the National Broadband Network project despite admitting he knows some officials in ZTE Corp. He admitted making four trips to China and playing golf there, but denied reports that he lobbied for the ZTE deal in exchange for money and sex.

September 10, 2007: In an affidavit, Jose “Joey” De Venecia III claimed that he was with Abalos in China when the latter met with ZTE officials. He claimed he heard Abalos demand for money from the ZTE officials. Joey is a majority shareholder of a company which lost to ZTE in the bidding for the NBN contract. He is also the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

September 11, 2007: The Supreme Court en banc issued a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the controversial NBN contract between the Philippines and Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

September 18, 2007: In a Senate hearing, Joey said First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo personally told him six months ago to “back off” from pursuing the multi-million dollar national broadband network project.

A few days ago, Romulo Neri, a cabinet secretary of President Gloria Arroyo, also testified in the senate and accused Abalos of offering him almost a $5 million bribe in connection with the deal. Neri told the senate that he informed the president of the bribe attempt. The president instructed him to reject the bribe. However, Neri refused to divulge other details of his conversation with the president citing “executive privilege.”

Was the president involved in the controversy? Why did she approve the signing of the contract despite being informed of the bribe attempt? Why are the allies of the president accusing each other of being involved in shady transactions?

Inside PCIJ uploads the presentation of the government explaining that the Chinese company ZTE offered the best proposal in terms of capability and cost. A Nagueno in the blogosphere thinks the national broadband network project “started out as a good idea that later metamorphosed into some sort of a Frankenstein project.”

Yugatech comments on the senate investigation of the contract:

“Despite the politics behind the issue, I was more frustrated with the Senators asking repetitive questions and making non-sense tech-related conclusions… In essence, the proposed project is sound and laudable…But it is frustrating to realize that such a technological leap forward is marred with corruption and politics.”

The Bystander is not surprised over the scandal:

“With the way this government is being run by Arroyo and her cohorts, scandals and controversies seem to be an everyday occurrence. However, what makes this scandal quite different from the ones before it is the noise where it’s coming from. Unlike other whistleblowers who could easily be identified with the opposition, the current whistleblower is no less than the son of Speaker Jose de Venecia, a known Arroyo ally.”

Citizen on Mars ponders if the project is beneficial to the country in the long run. Our thoughts are free says top election officer Benjamin Abalos will leave a legacy of controversy when he retires from public service next year. Carol P. Araullo believes “that what the public is witnessing is a single corruption scandal opening up a veritable can of worms.”

Crooning the Night Away compares the presidential palace to a mafia house

“With the ZTE deal investigations in the Senate heating up, the image of gangsters running that palace by the Pasig River becomes more and more clear, and right in the middle of it all, the image of a godfather — an uglier, meaner Don Vito Corleone.”

Notes of Marichu Lambino wants the President “to come out and explain exactly why she let the election chair run around on the broadband contract with just a few months before elections.” Our Times disapproves of the project:

“What’s the urgency behind this broadband project anyway? One of the reasons why government’s communications run into billions is the number of personal calls done in hundreds of cubicles in every corner of the bureaucracy. Also, we do have 9-10 million Filipinos overseas and 81 or so foreign posts spread throughout the globe. Unless government makes more effective use of e-mail, YM, VOIP, and video-conferencing tools, those bills will remain sky-high.”

Philippines Without Borders on what the senate hearings revealed:

“The hearings proved what professors from the University of the Philippines School of Economics had said all along—that the project didn’t undergo any decent feasibility study. There was no honest-to-goodness numbers crunching. Grilled by senators, Transportation officials couldn’t answer even the most trivial details (like the cost components of government telecommunications expenditures) on the “savings” that the supposed NBN could bestow on the country’s coffers.”

Pinoy Penman articulates the sentiments of many Filipinos:

“I’ve had it. Somebody up there (or better yet, down there) please punish these people—with bolts of lightning, vats of boiling sulfur, suppurating sores, a rain of toads, anything!—if not for whatever crimes they may have committed, then for the worst offense of all, that of thinking of you and me as halfwits and of themselves as geniuses—which may well be the case, if we do or say nothing against this systematic, State-sponsored, shameless moronization of the Filipino.”

Ricky Carandang Reporting believes the Speaker of the House had implicated the president in the controversy:

“This is not an unsubstantiated claim by some oppositionist trying to oust the president. This is the Speaker of the House talking about something he had direct knowledge of. The fourth highest offical in the country and a loyal ally of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Whether he meant to or not, the Speaker may have just implicated the President in the ZTE Broadband scandal.”

Pinoytux weblog believes the project can be accomplished without foreign assistance. Agham insists that the project should not be pursued by the private sector:

“Any improvement to the use and access of new technology is always welcome. However, this should not be left to private companies to do, or worse, be a platform for corruption of a few.”

Aparador ni Lisa is disappointed that the First Gentleman has chosen to leave the country rather than face his critics. Peter Lavina wants the deal to be probed by Congress and Supreme Court even if it was already suspended by the government. Wake T-Rex asks if the Philippines is already standing up on its own after the government suspended other controversial deals with China.

The Ignatian Perspective defends cabinet secretary Romulo Neri who refused to divulge other details of his conversation with the president on the ZTE contract. But Uniffors described Neri as a rat. Miguel Paraz says the ZTE scandal revived the Philippine interconnectivity issue. Khanterbury Tales blogs about the death threats received by a columnist who wrote a blind item about a high-ranking election official involved in an anomalous deal.

Angelica Viloria narrated the life lessons from the senate hearing: There is always a diplomatic way of saying things; A poor memory can be the refuge of the guilty or the innocent; When in government, it is better to be without a friend; When in a stressful situation, keep your sense of humor. She adds:

“It was entertaining to a certain extent, exasperating at times — but when you think about it, if this is what happens with just one single contract, no wonder the country isn't moving forward.”

Txtpower group launched a cyberprotest by uploading a video about the issue in You Tube. A ringtone can be downloaded to express protest against the corruption scandal. Just live a simple life asks if the issue is the tipping point for the administration.

Newsstand and Slap Happy found humor in the senate probe. Achieving Happiness liveblogged the senate hearing.

ISAW on the dangers of the project:

“Let me make this short and simple. The problem with this deal is not only about over pricing. The problem of this deal is that we would be giving a foreign firm the ability to sniff into all our government transactions.”

Ironnie is against the project:

“As for the NBN project, I am not against having all agencies connected but is this a pressing need? Will this project save me from waiting in long lines and jumping from one government agency to another just to process some papers? A lot of people are dying in public hospitals for lack of equipments. A lot of students have no decent rooms and books in their classes. Surely, they deserve to be prioritized more.”


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