The Stinking ZTE Deal

Solons eyeing impeach raps against Abalos
Cabinet exec’s testimony deemed crucial

By Christian V. Esguerra, Beverly T. Natividad
Inquirer / Posted date: September 05, 2007


MANILA, Philippines — A group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives has begun the groundwork for the filing of an impeachment complaint against Benjamin Abalos Sr., chair of the Commission on Elections accused of brokering the $329-million contract for the national broadband network (NBN) project won by China’s ZTE Corp.

The lawmakers are considering the testimony of a Cabinet official who might be able to pin Abalos.

Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros Tuesday said the lawmakers had started communicating with the Cabinet official, who was supposedly privy to the NBN deal.

“We will try to get this Cabinet official for the impeachment case we are building,” said Hontiveros, representative of the party-list group Akbayan.

Hontiveros, the minority’s spokesperson on the impeachment issue, declined to identify the official.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves has acknowledged that he had met with ZTE executives twice — at his home in Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa City last year and at the Wack Wack Golf Club in Mandaluyong City a few months ago. Abalos, he said, was present on both occasions.

Hontiveros said opposition lawmakers were giving themselves a “reasonable timetable” of two weeks to a month to build the case.

The Cabinet official was among several people identified at a minority caucus Monday afternoon as possible sources who could deliver the goods against the Comelec chair.

Hontiveros said these people could either serve as primary sources or could lead them to more information on Abalos’ alleged involvement in the controversial deal.

“It is a work in progress,” she said. “We are looking for high-quality documentary evidence.”

The chair and commissioners of the Comelec can be removed only through the impeachment process. An impeachment complaint must get at least one-third or 79 votes in the House so it could be forwarded to the Senate for trial.

A businessman said he was willing to testify in any investigation against Abalos that the Comelec chair offered Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, an executive of Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), a bribe to withdraw its bid for the NBN project.

The businessman said the bribe would have come from the overprice of the project, which is envisioned to establish a seamless connectivity of landline, cellular and Internet services among all national government agencies and offices.

Big one and little one

Aside from Abalos, at least two influential personalities — “the Big One and the Little One” — had taken a slice of the kickbacks from the ZTE contract, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday.

“A total of $68 million was supposed to bankroll the May 14 midterm elections and $85 million [was to go] to the Big One and the Little One and the overprice balance to some equally corrupt DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) officials and the rest of the usual boys,” said Lacson, who refused to identify the alleged recipients.

Trips and trysts

The House is scheduled to investigate the deal after Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said in a privilege speech last week that Abalos helped ZTE win the $329-million deal. Padilla claimed that the contract was overpriced.

The lawmaker also claimed that ZTE paid for the trips of Abalos to China and his trysts with Chinese women.

The Comelec chair earlier said he could not have brokered the deal because he was not powerful enough to do that. But he admitted that he accepted free trips to China from ZTE officials who, he said, had become his golf buddies.

Come out

Abalos Tuesday asked his accuser to come out in the open before he answers the allegation that he tried to bribe De Venecia.

“Unless this man comes out, I’m sorry, I cannot talk about him. Let us not glorify this so-called unnamed source. How can you answer unnamed sources? Let this unnamed source come out before I glorify that,” Abalos told reporters.

He said that if the accuser was De Venecia himself then he would answer the accusation.

“But he [De Venecia III] was not the one who said that. Was he the one who said that? If he was the one, I will answer that,” he said.

ZTE on Monday said it did not enjoy undue advantage over AHI and the US firm Arescom in winning the NBN contract.

Reform bloc

Hontiveros said members of the so-called “reform bloc” in the House had been informed about the minority’s plan to file an impeachment complaint against Abalos.

“To their mind, the pieces of evidence we have are not yet enough to pursue an impeachment case,” she said. “But they are not closing their door on it.”

At the minority caucus, Hontiveros said lawyers in the opposition bloc noted that the impeachment complaint against Abalos should involve pieces of evidence “of greater volume and quality” than those in ordinary cases.

“At this point, we believe that the allegations are very serious,” she said. “If they constitute an impeachable offense as the days unfold, it will be our legislative duty to build a strong impeachment case.”

But the planned complaint would not be limited to Abalos’ purported complicity in the ZTE deal, the lawmaker said.

She said a secondary ground would be the Comelec’s alleged “systematic and repeated election offenses” under Abalos’ watch.

She cited purportedly widespread cheating during the 2004 elections marked by the “Hello Garci” controversy, and the case of Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol.

Hontiveros earlier criticized the six-month jail term that the Comelec had imposed on Bedol. He was found guilty of indirect contempt for failing to show up at Comelec investigations of alleged irregularities in his area of jurisdiction last May.

“Ironically, Abalos might be impeached because of the ZTE deal,” she said. “But we will put on record the many election offenses he has committed.”

In the Upper Chamber, Senate President Manuel Villar said canceling the ZTE contract was the “proper action” to take.

“There are many things which need to be explained, many personalities involved concerning a huge amount, and we could not even justify why we need to borrow a substantial sum when specifics have not been set,” he said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the contract was “unpopular, dirty and stinking.”

A lawyer of AHI, the Filipino firm that came up with the unsolicited proposal for an NBN, said the company would address the alleged $10-million bribery attempt by Abalos in a congressional inquiry.

Marinelle O’Santos said AHI was offended when the deal was awarded to ZTE despite its superior proposal for a national broadband project in terms of both cost and technology. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Norman Bordadora

This story really stinks. Our country has been beset by scam after scam incessantly and without pause (super redundant but still an understatement) . High government officials pimping for each other to investors and contractors on highly irregular deals that will earn them millions in commission.

The funny thing is, they couldn’t even make their stories straight. One contradicting the other – what one denies is being confirmed by the another.

“Finance Secretary Margarito Teves has confirmed that he was introduced to officials of the China-based ZTE Corp. during a meeting with Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos.

“Yes, I was with him [Abalos] in a meeting where I was introduced to ZTE people,” Teves said in an ambush interview with reporters Friday.

He said the meeting with ZTE officials talked about the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project.”

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of the other day, Abalos said he and ZTE officials met with Teves at the finance secretary’s house in Alabang, Muntinlupa, “one afternoon last year.”

But Abalos said the NBN project was never a part of the conversation, nor did he help ZTE to get the deal.

He also told the Inquirer newspaper that the ZTE officials were interested in a project for the Davao Special Economic Zone and wanted to meet with government officials who could help them.

Friday, Teves told ANC that during the meeting with ZTE, Abalos did not talk about a project for the Mindanao economic zone but only about the broadband.

These are not stupid people. These are people who were handpicked for the highest positions in government. Some have questionable qualifications for the positions they were appointed to, but they are far from being stupid to commit mistakes and lapses like these. Or maybe, they really do not care. If Under-Secretary Jocelyn Bolante escaped unscathed when the Fertilizer Scam was exposed, they maybe the too will survive this setback. That’s IMPUNITY for us.

As this scandal will unfold, I will not be surprised if they will sooner or later come up with a consistent story. I don’t know how but I know they are very capable storytellers. But hey, somebody is obviously LYING… should we let them get away with this? I salute Rep. Risa Hontiveros for making a courageous stand. Maybe the impeachment bid against Abalos may come out a quixotic in the end (considering the outcomes of the recent scandals), but it is a stand every decent Pinoy can identify with and support.



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