Why is ZTE now seeking an exit from the NBN deal?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-09-20
Last Tuesday's Senate hearing on the ZTE contract lived up to its billing when it led to the unveiling of the "Mystery Man" behind the controversial National Broadband Network Project.

Star witness Joey de Venecia III, identified the "Mystery Man" as no less than First Gentleman (FG) Jose Miguel Arroyo who was said to have jabbed his finger no more than three inches from Joey de Venecia's face while telling him to "Back Off!" Of course, the revelation only confirmed what most people already knew from text messages circulating a week before. 

The drama heightened when news broke that FG Mike Arroyo suddenly took off for Hong Kong the day before the hearing. Per Malaya's Ellen Tordesillas, he left with his cousin Bomboy Araneta and they will be met in Switzerland by "a very close female friend" of FG Mike Arroyo.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel did not lose the opportunity to suggest that FG Mike Arroyo's departure can be construed as an admission of guilt. 

However, despite the gory details that Joey de Venecia outlined during the Senate hearing, new questions are emerging just as fast. Many now ask — is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo directly involved?

Joey de Venecia was only willing to implicate Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos as the central figure behind the anomalous and grossly overpriced ZTE contract. If Joey de Venecia is to be believed, Ben Abalos would appear to be the biggest influence peddler to ever sit as Comelec Chairman.

Come to think of it, those who are moving to impeach Ben Abalos may want to consider imposing a lifetime ban on his playing golf on grounds that it imperils national security. When Abalos played golf with some South Koreans, the Filipino people had to pay dearly for the Mega Pacific computerization fiasco. Now that he played golf with the Chinese, we stand to pay for a $330 million overpriced ZTE contract that could become obsolete even before we can fully pay the bill.

My Scottish grandfather, Ian Macgregor, the 1919 and 1920 Philippine Open Golf Champion, must be rolling in his grave at the way golf — known to be an honest man's game — has now been associated with mega-scams.

Joey de Venecia painted Ben Abalos as a crook while fellow STAR columnist Jarius Bondoc drew a picture of a killer on the lurk. Jarius claimed that Abalos threatened to have him and Joey de Venecia killed.

Many of the Senators would not buy Joey de Venecia's suggestion that only Abalos was to benefit from the ZTE deal. I have no doubt that the cynical Filipino public arrived at the same conclusion. 

Talks about a $10 million bribe offered to Joey de Venecia and P200 million for former NEDA Secretary Romulo Neri would strongly suggest that the kickbacks of the ZTE deal amount to billions of pesos. No rational Filipino will believe that such a reward will only benefit the alleged principal pusher of the ZTE deal, Ben Abalos.

And if we're to assume that the Arroyo couple is not receiving anything out of the deal, why will they go out of their way to push the proposal of Abalos?

Contrary to claims of regime allies that Senate investigations are either arenas for projecting presidential ambitions or fishing expeditions for ammunition against the Arroyo regime — the Tuesday ZTE hearing provided good insights into the pros and cons of the proposed broadband project.

The attacks on the integrity of Madame Arroyo and her husband were there. Many would have been surprised if these were missing in a predominantly Opposition Senate. But overall, the upside and the downside of the proposed national broadband project were brought out and discussed intelligently. Anyone who did not know much about this recent stink of the Arroyo regime gained a fair appreciation of the issues after watching the hearing that lasted over three hours.

Obviously, Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo panicked and suddenly ordered Secretaries Leandro Mendoza of the DoTC, Peter Favila of DTI and former NEDA Secretary Romulo Neri to attend today’s ZTE Senate hearing. I believe it had all to do with damage control, especially now that FG Mike Arroyo has been named and the Opposition Senators are looking at her direct involvement. 

It was revealed last Tuesday that in a golf game last October in China, with Speaker Joe de Venecia present, Madame Arroyo suggested to Abalos to pattern his ZTE proposal after that of Joey de Venecia's company. This establishes that she knew and was fully aware of the inferior features of the ZTE deal.

A major wrinkle has developed. ANC reported yesterday that officials of ZTE are now looking for an exit strategy. Jarius Bondoc tells me that if this stink reverberates in Beijing — something an interested party like the US can easily arrange — the ZTE officials involved could end up facing the firing squad!

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