JDV's son confirms $10-M Abalos bribeUpdate Sept-09-2007 4:09PM: Via Ellen, the cornered rat is threatening to sue.
By Iris Gonzales and Rainier Allan Ronda
Saturday, September 8, 2007
The son of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. confirmed yesterday that Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) offered him $10 million to back out of competition with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. for a national broadband contract.
Jose de Venecia III, a director of ZTE's rival Amsterdam Holdings Inc., confirmed the story in an interview with ABS-CBN in its website, saying Abalos had told him, "Joey, umatras ka na lang, bibigyan kita ng $10 million (back out, I will give you $10 million)."
The younger De Venecia said he was shocked and immediately declined the bribe...
...the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), which claims to be the voice of the private business sector, is not about to call for the resignation of Abalos or the annulment of the ZTE contract.
"It is still too premature to say anything at this time," Sergio Ortiz-Luis, PCCI honorary chairman and president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation and Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said yesterday.
...Abalos has been widely criticized for allegedly brokering for ZTE and receiving cash and outlandish perks in China – including young women – in return.
Abalos admitted ZTE paid for his trip to China weeks before the last elections but denied brokering for the Chinese firm or receiving lavish gifts or sexual favors.
...Ortiz-Luis said it is wrong to pass judgment on Abalos or the broadband contract at this time since nobody has seen the contract yet or has really made a full measure of the competency of the parties that participated in the bidding.
Ortiz-Luis said the best thing to do at this time is to wait for the results of the investigations, including those that will be conducted by Malacañang and the Senate, before coming out with a position.
He said everything is still based on allegations and reports so it is not proper to say anything categorical.
China open to ZTE probe
The Chinese government may investigate ZTE officials for possible wrongdoing.
Liu Jien Chao, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told ABS-CBN Australia News Bureau on Thursday that his government takes allegations of corruption seriously.
"We are firm in fighting against any kind of corruption no matter if it happened in the government or any of the enterprises and we are also against any corruption that cropped up in bilateral trade relations with our trade partners so we are firm on that," Liu said.
"I think if the Philippine side will raise this issue with the Chinese side the Chinese side will look seriously into this," he said. But he admitted he is not privy to the ZTE deal.
Gov't experts ignored
The government's own technology experts had vouched for the viability of a "free" national broadband network but had been ignored in favor of the expensive – and questionable – offer from ZTE.
Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro told the House committee on appropriations that no government official had consulted her office regarding the $329-million controversial broadband deal. The House committee is deliberating on the P5.28 billion proposed budget for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
She said the broadband program is within the jurisdiction and expertise of the DOST.
She said the DOST has been pushing for an NBN project since 2001 and that the National Economic and Development Authority or NEDA has already been apprised of the proposal.
She added that NEDA has yet to act on her agency's request for funds from Official Development Assistance.
But she said that despite funding problems, the DOST was still able to establish online communications among 80 agencies using the existing network of the country's top telecommunications companies.
Meanwhile, Amsterdam Holdings Inc. refuted ZTE's accusations that the government stands to lose more if it chooses AHI or other contractors.
"ZTE's proposal will require the Philippine government to obtain a $330 million loan from the Chinese government at an interest rate of three percent per annum, payable in 15 years with a grace period of five years," AHI said in a statement.
"But the Philippine government will not have to pay a single cent towards the $240 million project cost of AHI," it said. "AHI will construct, operate, and maintain the NBN at no cost to government."
House will be fair
The House leadership is ready to let any impeachment case against Abalos take its course, a senior House member said.
"In fact, there are early preparations so as not to derail the proceedings in case a complaint is filed against chairman Abalos in the House," Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan said.
"The House will be fair on any forthcoming impeachment complaint or complaints against him," he said.
Domogan said he is confident the involvement of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.'s son in the controversy would not affect impeachment proceedings.
"We believe the Speaker will not use his influence over the congressmen even with his son's involvement in the NBN deal controversy with the ZTE Corp. In fairness to the Speaker, he has observed delicadeza (propriety) and has not prejudged chairman Abalos," Domogan said. The Speaker's son, Jose de Venecia III co-founded AHI, ZTE's most vocal rival.
The Baguio City lawmaker said De Venecia even described the kickback issue against Abalos as "overkill."
"The Speaker has said that his son and his business associates are not interested in impeachment or in persecuting anybody and that they are only interested in business," Domogan said.
Threat of 'karma'
By shunning a bribe, he may have emerged with a clear conscience but by keeping silent about the misdeed he may ultimately lose his soul.
This was the message of a Catholic prelate to Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri in reaction to the latter's being tight-lipped about alleged bribery cases in government contracts.
Neri, former NEDA director general, said he couldn't be bribed but refused to confirm or deny if money clandestinely changed hands in the ZTE deal.
Fr. Ben Moraleda, of the Kaalagad Katipunan Kristyano said Neri should "do the right thing by telling the truth and save (his) soul before it's too late."
"Neri may have lost an opportunity to bail out of a 'sinking ship' when he refused to confirm or deny that he was offered a P200-million bribe to support the NBN project that ZTE won," Moraleda, who is also vice president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said.
"This is not about politics. This is about his moral responsibility to expose or condemn a crime," he also said.
On Neri's boast over radio that he never accepted bribes because he believed in "bad karma," Moraleda explained that "karma is not only about avoiding what is wrong, but especially doing what is right."
"Bad karma, therefore, will still happen if you fail to do your duty to the people," Moraleda said. "Scratch a liar and you'll find a thief."
A report by ABS-CBN correspondent Ricky Carandang said Abalos talked to Neri about the ZTE deal and that the former NEDA chief voiced his opposition to the contract but not to the need for a broadband project. Neri also declined to comment on the bribe offer.
ABS-CBN said its sources alleged that Neri informed Mrs. Arroyo of the bribe offer and that she asked him to turn it down but insisted that the deal should be approved.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, for his part, denied that Neri's opposition to the ZTE deal cost him his job as NEDA chief. – with Delon Porcalla, Katherine Adraneda, Ma. Eliza Osorio, and Paolo Romero
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Abalos Political Deathwatch: Day Three
Excerpts from a news item in the the Philippine Star, many thanks to Yuko.