ZTE meet was hush-hush, says De Venecia wife


MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s golf game and lunch meeting with ZTE Corp. officials in Shenzhen, China, on Nov. 2, 2006, were so “hush-hush” that even the wife of then Speaker Jose de Venecia was not allowed to join the group.

In a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday from New York, Gina de Venecia said: “Everything was done in a hush-hush [manner]. Nakakaduda nga na parang nagtatago sila (It looked like they were hiding something).

“Usually she (the President) takes me with her, but this time she only took Joe with her. The protocol [people] told me I was not included in the group. They gave me another car so I just went around Shenzhen.”

Gina de Venecia confirmed that her husband was among those who were with the First Couple and then Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos when Ms Arroyo played golf with ZTE officials at the Shenzhen Golf Club and had lunch with them at ZTE headquarters later.

But she took issue with Malacañang’s statement that the trip was not a secret or irregular.

She said her husband–who is in Russia for a speaking engagement–would talk about the trip “in the proper forum.”

Staunch allies

Gina de Venecia said she and her husband were in Hong Kong for All Saints’ Day in 2006 because they had not been observing the holiday in the Philippines since the tragic death of their young daughter KC on Dec. 16, 2004.

On Nov. 1, Ms Arroyo invited the De Venecias to the Four Seasons hotel, where the President was staying after her official trip to China that week.

They heard mass, and lit candles for KC as well as for Ms Arroyo’s mother, Eva Macapagal.

The De Venecias were then staunch allies of the President, and the Speaker’s wife was the latter’s frequent travel companion.

When they returned to the Four Seasons for lunch, Ms Arroyo invited De Venecia to play golf at Shenzhen and have lunch with ZTE officials the following day.

Gina de Venecia said she and her husband were not even prepared for the trip: “We said we had no Chinese visa and no golf attire.”

‘The fewer, the better’

The protocol people took their passports to get the visas for Shenzhen, she said.

But on the morning of Nov. 2, Gina de Venecia was surprised upon being told that she could not join her husband and Ms Arroyo’s party at the golf game and lunch at the ZTE headquarters.

The President’s party left in a white coaster.

In a separate vehicle, Gina de Venecia went around Shenzhen while waiting for her husband, who returned late in the afternoon.

Asked why she was left behind, she said: “Maybe the fewer people were with them, the better for them.”

She said Ms Arroyo probably took then Speaker De Venecia with her to impress upon the ZTE officials that his son and namesake would no longer get in the way of the Abalos-led lobby for ZTE to get the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract.

‘G-to-G’

The NBN contract became a government-to-government deal from a build-operate-transfer project after the President’s visit to ZTE, according to Gina de Venecia.

“After that golf game and lunch with the ZTE people, the NBN project became a G-to-G. I was really baffled. And where in the world can you see a President going to the bidder of a multimillion-dollar project? I think there was impropriety there,” she said.

(PDI)

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