Monday, September 24



From the latest indications and personal exchanges between Speaker JDV and his allies as well as rivals, it looks like the same disgusting TRAPO-dynamics of dirty politics will prevail among themselves, at the obvious expense of “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

And so the Filipino people’s most immediate hope for the whole truth about the ZTE-NBN plunder attempt to surface, rests on the tandem souls of “Jarius et Romulus”.

And the ball is now in the hands of the corroborative Romulus- half of that keenly awaited thunder-tandem. We hope it will explode and reverberate with nothing but the truth against which no amount nor degree of deviltry in Palace and Cabinet-wide mendacity will prevail.

For these two gentlemen, Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc and Philippine Cabinet Secretary Romulo Neri, hold the highest hopes of our conscienticized intellectuals and professionals, in having their sunset generation redeemed partially at least, in the eyes of their children and grandchildren, who have all the reason to blame them for the horrid depths of our nation’s present spiritual, moral, economic and political degradation.

Last Friday the 21st of September and the 35th anniversary of Marcos’ imposition of Martial Law, the Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with its editorial and columnists’ opinion, that were unanimous in condemning the obvious indications of graft and corruption in that ZTE-NBN transaction.

Today, the Philippine Star, has come out with a similar near-unanimous condemnation from its editorial and opinion writers, which are all being quoted in full hereunder.

Hopefully the clergy from all church denominations, and leaders of the academe especially from our Catholic schools and universities, will also realize that they are doing a distinct dis-service to our people, especially to the youth, if they will stick to their unseemly indifference in the face of top military and civilian government leaders’ blatant attempts to silence and to terrorize our citizens such as Jarius et Romulus.

Monday, September 24, 2007

As the pro-administration coalition appeared headed for collapse and Transport and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza joined the military top brass in claiming fresh destabilization attempts, the government announced the other day that the $329-million national broadband network or NBN deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. had been suspended indefinitely. Why? Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, who made the announcement, invoked “executive privilege” and would say no more. The pair also announced that the equally controversial and even more expensive Cyber Education project of the Department of Education had also been frozen.

In fact the ZTE deal had already been suspended two weeks ago – by virtue of a restraining order issued by the Supreme Court. Senators were unimpressed by Favila’s announcement and vowed to continue this week with their inquiry into the ZTE deal. Only two days before the announced suspension, the deal had been staunchly defended by Mendoza, who arrived at the Senate with a rah-rah choir led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

The lawmakers’ decision is correct, considering that the Senate has become the only venue for ferreting out the truth about a deal that will saddle Filipinos with a multimillion-dollar debt. Apart from getting a clear picture of what exactly was signed by Mendoza with ZTE officials in the presence of President Arroyo last April in Boao, China, the public is also entitled to know the truth about allegations that Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections had brokered the deal and that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo appeared to have intervened.

As the picture becomes clearer, interested parties should look into the possibility of filing criminal charges against certain individuals for graft. Going by the amounts mentioned in this widening scandal, indictments for large-scale corruption or plunder may be warranted. The filing of such charges is not the job of senators. Their mandate is to craft legislation that will promote transparency, particularly in areas that are currently exempted from rules on public accountability such as government-to-government deals.

Lawmakers may also want to fine-tune their own rules on ethics to prevent any member of Congress from using his position for personal gain. Something positive should come out of this latest sorry episode in national life. All sectors must work to prevent a repeat of this scandal.

Scare tactics SKETCHES
By Ana Marie Pamintuan
Monday, September 24, 2007

The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the broadband deal with ZTE Corp. on Sept. 11, effectively putting it on ice. So why did Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera have to call a press conference to announce that the deal had been suspended indefinitely?

Now Favila is bellyaching that the suspension could discourage foreign investors from doing business here. After trying to take credit for suspending a controversial $329-million project, the administration wants to blame critics of the deal for scaring away investors. But the only one to blame for this mess is the administration itself.

Foreign investors would shy away, as they should, from a government that cannot guarantee transparency in its official transactions.

Investors shy away, as they should, from countries where the rule of law is a joke and the regulatory environment is ineffectual, where massive kickbacks must be factored into the cost of doing business, and where companies that do pay fat commissions risk losing their investments when the payoffs are uncovered and the government is forced – to use the phrase of the year – to back off.

China itself should want its companies to clean up their act and comply with international rules on fair trade and transparency. If China wants to become an economic success in the mode of Singapore, it should frown on corruption and encourage its international partners to do the same.

Favila should retain whatever credibility he still enjoys while working for this administration by refusing to engage in a blame game for the loss of investor confidence.

If he had not announced the suspension, he could have told Chinese officials that Malacañang was simply bowing to the Supreme Court and complying with the restraining order. The compliance should have been immediate. Did the weekend announcement mean that the administration had ignored the high court?

Now the suspension has become an executive decision, which opens the government to fresh criticism from the international community about the unreliability of business policies in this country. Not only are we unable to guarantee the sanctity of business contracts, we even lose the original signed documents.

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The government announced the suspension of an already suspended deal after warnings of fresh destabilization attempts using the ZTE scandal were met with a yawn by the public.

Attempts to discredit Joey de Venecia also fizzled out, with the below-the-belt attack of Luli Arroyo backfiring and showing her to be truly her mother’s daughter. The verdict: diplomacy’s loss was fortuitous for the country after all.

Instead of winning public sympathy, the warnings about purported destabilization have raised concern that the administration is laying the groundwork for another crackdown on its political opponents.

The administration may have to deploy more loyalist troops to carry out any crackdown, since it has succeeded in alienating even its long-time allies led by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

If the administration keeps up its policy of losing friends and alienating people, the only loyalists it might have left before Christmas would be its gang of corrupt Untouchables and the Three Stooges.

The administration has already lost the Senate. Does it also want to risk a bruising fight for control of the House of Representatives?

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Apart from guarding against invasions of privacy by the state and actual physical harm, those involved in uncovering the truth and making public officials account for misdeeds in the ZTE deal should heed an advice from the prosecutors in Joseph Estrada’s plunder case.

If you want to see top public officials like Erap convicted, Simeon Marcelo said, be prepared to do the spadework.

Marcelo, who quit as Ombudsman amid speculation that Malacañang wanted him to go easy on former justice secretary Hernando Perez’s $2-million corruption case, warned that pinning down those in power requires so much more than holding press conferences and preening for the cameras.

It would be good, Marcelo said, to find a whistle-blower like former Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson. The losing senatorial candidate may one day also find himself facing an indictment for corruption committed under this administration, but he served his purpose in the prosecution of Erap.

Since the ZTE scandal erupted, complete with stories about “sexcapades” in China, the overriding question has always been how high the stink goes.

Romulo Neri will be questioned this week about reports that he told President Arroyo he had been offered P200 million by Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections to endorse the ZTE deal. The President allegedly told him to ignore the offer but approve the deal anyway. If this story is true, the President could be held liable for condoning a bribery attempt.
Days later, Neri lost his post as head of the National Economic and Development Authority and was shunted to the Commission on Higher Education.

Will Neri tell the truth? No one is holding his breath. Another story going around is that Neri, when pressed to tell the alleged bribery attempt under oath, expressed concern that if he became a party to an impeachment that leads to the ouster of the President, someone like Sen. Panfilo Lacson could take over. This administration must think the constitutional successor, Vice President Noli de Castro, is a non-entity.

Apart from the possible indictment of the President herself, graft charges could be filed against Abalos, Transport and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and the others involved in the deal. If Neri takes responsibility for the approval of the deal when he was NEDA secretary-general, he could also be indicted.

As Marcelo reminded everyone, making criminal charges stick isn’t easy. But the spadework has to be done if the country is serious in its campaign against graft.

Corruption, not the suspension of a questionable contract, is what scares away investors and undermines the sustainability of economic growth.

Two different courts A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) By Jose C. Sison Monday, September 24, 2007

Positive, clear and straightforward assertions regarding the existence of a factual proposition has more weight and credibility than bare denials without any specific details. This is a basic rule on evidence.

To get to the bottom of the truth and establish the relevant fact in issue, the number of witnesses is not as important and persuasive as the probability and tenability of their story. The version of a lone witness may appear more convincing when range against the accounts of several witnesses if it is more plausible and closer to the truth. This is another basic rule on evidence.

Also basic is that personal attack against the character and reputation including the physical features of a witness, or threatening him with court suits, are mere diversionary tactics that do not affect the existence of the relevant fact in issue. Even a person convicted of a crime is not disqualified to testify on what he personally saw and experience. Such diversionary tactics only betray the weakness of the denier’s version of the truth.

If these basic rules are applied to the raging word war between the main protagonists in the controversial $329 million ZTE deal particularly on the kickbacks, bribery, overpricing, sex, death threats and the alleged intimidating demand to “back off” the deal, it is easy to know who has the upper hand and who is more believable as far as the public is concerned. Jose de Venecia III the man behind the company that lost the deal has made damaging accusations against Abalos and FG. In reply, several admissions have been made regarding certain facts, events and circumstances surrounding the deal.

Abalos admitted: (1) that he knows and has played golf with some officials of ZTE but only with respect to the importation business of his daughter; (2) that he made several trips to Hong Kong sometime in December 2006 up to early January, 2007 courtesy of ZTE officials and played golf with them but only as a gesture of reciprocity as he also treated them to golf games in Wack-Wack; (3) that several meetings were held in relation to the ZTE deal where he was present together with other government officials particularly (a) at the Teves residence in Alabang more than a year ago where he introduced some ZTE officials to Teves and where they talked about some projects in Mindanao, (b) at a Wack-Wack Golf restaurant a few months ago with Mendoza and Teves to discuss the broadband project with ZTE officials, (c) at his favorite haunt in Wack-Wack some other times where Joey de Venecia kept showing up and where at one time FG also happened to be there with Mendoza, and (d) at his office where the young de Venecia saw him several times. Abalos also admitted that he met Joey de Venecia in China on December 27, 2006 but they didn’t go there together.

These events, and the circumstances surrounding them, show at the very least that some improprieties have been committed. Firstly, it does not seem right at all for the Chairman of the Comelec who has nothing to do with the ZTE contract to be present at several meetings held in relation to said contract, even unofficially and merely as golfing buddies of ZTE officials. Precisely because of his golfing connections with the ZTE officials, he should have avoided those meetings to dispel ugly but seemingly well founded suspicions that he brokered the deal. This attitude of “impunity” on the part of a government official holding such a delicate position has prompted some business groups to come up with a statement expressing their alarm and condemnation.

More significantly, these events and circumstances show that the story of young de Venecia is not a pure concoction; that it is not a complete fabrication and therefore more convincing to the public. There are indeed meetings with him, Abalos and Mendoza and at one time with FG. He also met Abalos in Hong Kong last December 27. Their versions vary only on what transpired during those meetings and encounters.

De Venecia claimed that in those meetings Abalos offered him $10 million and also pressed the ZTE officials in HK to come up with the rest of the payoffs, while FG intimidated him to back off from the deal. Abalos on the other hand denied any payoffs from the ZTE and branded de Venecia’s accusations of bribery offer as a barefaced lie. On the contrary, Abalos said that it was de Venecia who kept on following him up to seek help for his company’s NBN proposal. The spokesman of FG likewise denied the intimidation at Wack Wack. He said that FG had gone there merely to play golf when he saw Abalos and Mendoza at a nearby table and overheard the young de Venecia who was not even known to him at that time following up his project proposal with Mendoza. And when Mendoza introduced de Venecia to him, FG even reminded de Venecia that he cannot be involved in any government transaction because he is the son of the Speaker, said FG’s spokesman.

These are the conflicting versions now being circulated and presented before the court of public opinion. In this court, the people themselves decide which of the varying versions are credible and believable without being guided by any rules on the appreciation of evidence. The more popular version is considered as the truth. The factors making the administration version unpopular are the damaging admissions and seemingly unsatisfactory explanations and the lack of transparency surrounding the multimillion-dollar deal wherein the very document containing its terms was lost and have not been fully reproduced up to now. The decision may be popular but not necessarily correct, binding and conclusive.

The issues arising from the charges and countercharges of corruption, bribery, sex, and even death threats should therefore be brought before the court of law. Here the truth will be determined more authoritatively and conclusively by the competent branch of government in accordance with clear and specific rules of evidence. The pending case in the Supreme Court is not enough as it merely involves the validity of the contract and its overpricing, not the factual issues on the payoffs and kickbacks. The suspension of the deal should not deter Abalos to make good his threat to sue de Venecia for libel or file other legal actions if he has not done so yet. Here the decision may be unpopular but is presumably correct, binding and conclusive.
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Is it a done deal?AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman
Monday, September 24, 2007

I thought the president and other cabinet members implied that the ZTE deal is already a done deal and cannot be questioned? How can that be? I know the people should respect the government’s decisions since we put them there to work for us but now that the ZTE deal is being questioned shouldn’t we get a good answer to our suspicions? We need to be cleared here somehow – our tax money is at stake.

How can we stop political noise, if we are not assured of our future? Nowadays, many are calculating how much tax their children and their children’s children will be paying if we pursue the ZTE multimillion-dollar deal. As it is, our countrymen have been trying to make ends meet with the E-VAT already imposed on us. What is next on the tax program? How will the government augment our international debt if government officials are not carefully scrutinizing the government projects? If we continue to be reckless in making deals, our taxes will naturally continue to increase and we will never see an end to the problem.

Controversial projects and deals have always been part and parcel of government systems even if they are not beneficial to the people. In fact, the more you can escape public scrutiny, the more successful you become. The government really lacks transparency. We would actually be in Utopia if we will ever achieve such a state. Nevertheless, the government, the congressmen and senators must police and control each other. I hope this time, our citizenry has learned and will be stronger forces pushing to do what is right and just. Remember our experience last election? The people became wiser and more vigilant. It became more difficult for the cheaters to win because everyone was watching and manning their votes. Let us see what will happen this time in this hysterical controversy.

The President cannot afford to make an enemy out of Joe the “Venetian.” He was her strongest supporter during the impeachment trial two years ago. Both the Speaker and his wife stood by La Gloria in her darkest hours. How can Gloria just castigate or oust the Speaker who knows a lot of secrets hidden within the walls of the Palace? GMA better play her game well or else she might experience a “check mate” in this game. Abangan!

What is happening right now in this country is truly a comedy combined with tragedy. Actually it has always been the case. It is the little people who suffer, not our politicians and those noisy know-it alls who live in cozy homes. We have always been striving to cope, to right what is wrong, to banish evil and corruption but we can’t seem to complete our actions. We seem to end up always frustrated. And hearing ourselves saying, “naku na-isahan nanaman tayo!” After a while, we easily give up and forget about the issue. Today’s problems are easily forgotten. Wasted and vanquished away. Susmariosep!

My dad wrote three straightforward and simple causes (national ills) which have prevented the progress of our country. These principal causes are: (1) pervasive graft and corruption at practically all levels of the national and local governments; (2) endless “politics” engaged in both those who hold the reins of power and the political opposition down to the local level; and (3) a bloated bureaucracy infested by incompetent, abusive and corrupt department and agency heads. In other words, the culprit of our ills and woes are caused by our national and local officials. Enough said.
Last Friday, the President said that “we should stop the political noise.” How can she say this when her own government, sad to say, has been doing things such as deals and government appointments which are politically-motivated? This is why we have corrupt and incompetent department and agency heads endorsed by Malacañang. Don’t forget that these politically-endorsed appointees in turn bring their own greedy camp followers into their officers. Hence, to borrow my dad’s words, “we have a bloated, less competent and indolent bureaucracy.” In one of his columns, he wrote about the state of our civil service which I think is vital to note: “According to the Civil Service Commission personnel today, never before in the history of that constitutional body have they seen such blatant violations of Civil Service rules and regulations in the appointment of people in the government, as they are now witnessing. So, obviously, it is not the system that is the problem but rather the mentality, culture and attitude of those who govern that must be held responsible for our stunted development.”

Since 1988 we have had the supposedly independent constitutional anti-graft body, the Office of the Ombudsman which is endowed with awesome powers. Yet, over the years since the Office of the Ombudsman was created 18 years ago and despite the proud boasts of achievements racked up by that office, graft and corruption has escalated instead, resulting in billions of pesos lost attributable to graft. So what’s up? Are we missing something here? This supposedly independent body is not so independent after all? If this is the case, do we really need another expense on our budget for such an office? Now, if the First Gentleman was really allegedly part of this ZTE deal along with Abalos, then how can the Ombudsman take the case, not unless she resigns for delicadeza of not wanting to check on the President and her men who put her in that office in the first place. Hay naku!

In television, we see GMA still with her head up high and quite stern in her decision to go on with the ZTE deal. But when majority is already questioning its motives, shouldn’t she pause and think. Shouldn’t she review the project? Not just suspend it. A slimy way of trying to get away from the current issue.

Our major concern is the expense. Second, why buy it when other companies have offered better programs that are of no cost to the government? Third, we have the right to know what’s going on. I beg to disagree that the people have no right to question government projects. Excuse me! We are paying for those projects which many officials recklessly enter into. So, give us the benefit of the doubt. Be transparent. And this includes that Cyber-Education’s hullabaloo.
Don’t you hear the cry of anguish of the citizens? Here we are crossing our fingers clinging on to faith, hoping against hope that this President will not put us down. I still pray that somehow you will bring light into the ZTE matter to enlighten each Filipino who deserves an explanation. We want to hear you. Do not hide beneath the curtains or the shadows of your men. We need the President to speak instead of showing the public that she is numbed about what’s going on. You should show more concern and compassion. Keeping silent just won’t do the trick.

What they expect Neri to discloseGOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
Monday, September 24, 2007

Last Thursday Romy Neri was supposed to testify at the Senate on the hated ZTE deal. On the eve he noticed strange men casing his house in Quezon City. As a Cabinet member Romy promptly reported the security threat. Executive Sec. Ed Ermita dispatched a team from the Presidential Security Group. Romy failed to attend the Senate hearing due to bum stomach. The surveillants turned out to be police intelligence agents.

Why cops were spying on him, Romy doesn’t understand. News reports, meanwhile, quoted Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon as associating the ZTE scam exposé to a plot to rock the Arroyo tenure. The military analysis echoes the old Marcos martial law trick of blaming legitimate dissent on communists and rightists. Did the surveillants suspect Romy of being among the imagined conspirators? Why do some officials seem so scared of what he might reveal about the $330-million government broadband deal with ZTE Corp. of China?

I have talked to Romy exactly ten times by phone and face-to-face ever since I started a series in Mar. on the ZTE scam. Each conversation was tense. On two occasions Romy swore me to secrecy. At least twice too he said his life was in my hands. In the last three talks, including Tuesday after I first testified about my exposés, I asked him when he would bare all. He repeated that there’s a time and place for everything. I told him of at least four pious groups that are praying for his safety. He assured me he would tell only the truth if made to take the oath. I said I anticipate the heavy sacrifice he would face if he does so; he sympathized with me for undergoing harassment, threats and false accusations. In our last talk, I told him I am honored he considers me a friend since 1987, when he became head of the Congress Planning and Budget Office.

I often review my notes of our first talk on the morning of Apr. 20, the day I wrote about the rush to sign the ZTE contract in Boao, China. From insider info, I had stated that the National Economic Development Authority, which he headed then, had approved the ZTE deal in a huff. He called to clarify that what NEDA had cleared was the concept for a national broadband network, not the company. Sorry, I said, but I drew my conclusion from the endorsement of Secretaries Leandro Mendoza and Ramon Sales specifying both Amsterdam Holdings Inc. and ZTE — just that it’s with the latter that Mendoza was signing a contract. I confided the tip that the NEDA didn’t like what it was doing.

Romy then rattled off many things he knew about the events leading to the scheduled signing of Apr. 21. I later learned that he had told at least three of our common friends the same things.
Some of the items have since been reported in broadcast and print. There was a supposed invitation from Comelec chief Benjamin Abalos to golf at the Wack Wack Country Club, during which Romy was offered P200 million to support ZTE. As the story goes, Romy turned down and told President Arroyo about the indecent proposal. Whereupon, she instructed him to not accept the bribe but ensure the NEDA approvals just the same. Romy has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Only God and Romy know if under oath he would confirm or deny the other items. I pray that he expound on them. He had told me on that morning of Apr. 20 and several other times that not only a Comelec official but an influential businessman too was inordinately lobbying for ZTE Corp. The businessman allegedly was responsible for the sudden rise of the ZTE tag price to $330 million days before the signing, when its original offer in Dec. to Feb. was $262 million. What was the $68-million difference for, I asked in subsequent talks. Romy said the businessman was assigned to raise campaign funds for an administration party during the last election.

I would understand if Romy balks in identifying the businessman. In a previous cocktail party at the residence of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., he said, that man had cornered and threatened him for opposing a fishy pier project. That man reportedly also worked on Romy’s consequent transfer from NEDA to the Commission on Higher Education.

Romy in our talks implicated most of the persons Joey de Venecia has exposed under oath as thieving from the broadband purchase. But I get the impression that Romy knows much more than the heroic whistleblower who initially was bidding for the telecom project.

About ZTE executives, Romy also said he has never seen any group as aggressive as them in pushing for a contract. They were waiting outside the NEDA conference room while the Cabinet was deliberating about them.

More importantly, Romy said a very powerful official arm-twisted him to turn the broadband project from a safe build-operate-transfer plan to a risky outright supply purchase. It was for that reason, he told me on Apr. 20, that he almost resigned from the Cabinet the day before.

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