New NBN-ZTE witness wavering


MANILA, Philippines—There is a possibility the new witness in the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. will back out of the Senate inquiry, Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico admitted yesterday.

Suplico told reporters the administration may have learned who the witness was from among those who joined President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s trip to Shanghai, China, and the ZTE headquarters in November 2006.

According to Suplico, suspicious-looking persons had started staking out the witness’s neighborhood and asking his neighbors about him.

“Threatening witnesses has now become a modus operandi of this government every time it is confronted with the truth,” Suplico said at the weekly Balitaan sa Tinapayan press forum in Manila.

Suplico said the witness was seriously thinking about moving to another house.

Asked if there was a chance the witness would “back out” of the Senate inquiry into the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, Suplico said: “That’s possible.”

“He is the best judge of his own security…. He has children like you and me,” he said.

Suplico said the witness only wanted “to help in the search for the truth.”

According to Suplico, there may have been two small busloads of officials and aides who accompanied Ms Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to ZTE’s Shenzhen headquarters.

“If there were 50 officials and not-so-high officials and aides, it wouldn’t take 100 persons to background-check each of those who went on that trip,” Suplico said.

Blowup of Arroyo photo

Suplico presented a blowup picture of top-level officials of the Chinese telecommunications firm who were with President Arroyo on the golf course in Shenzhen.

“It will be best for us if ZTE officials identified who these persons were,” Suplico said.

Suplico, a lawyer, said that so far the witness didn’t need to execute an affidavit on what he knows about the lunch meeting and golf game between Ms Arroyo and the ZTE officials.

He said three parties—Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos and Gina de Venecia, the Speaker’s wife, had confirmed the trip and Ms Arroyo’s meeting with the ZTE officials.

“What he has so far said is that Ms Arroyo went to Shenzhen and met with ZTE officials on Nov. 2, 2006, and he has pictures to show (for it),” Suplico said.

Confirmation

“With the admission of Secretary Ermita, Chairman Abalos and Speaker De Venecia, through his wife Gina, this fact has been confirmed,” he said.

Asked if the witness had more evidence or pictures, Suplico said, “That is possible.”

Suplico had a picture of Ms Arroyo riding a golf cart blown up and cropped the images of a man and a woman who were riding in a golf cart behind her.

The man in a yellow shirt was also in another picture standing beside De Venecia on the Shenzhen golf course while the woman in a pink shirt was taking Ms Arroyo’s picture with the city’s name in the background.

‘Romantic Rose’

The woman’s shirt had the words “Romantic Rose” on the front.

Suplico said he presumed the persons were top officials of ZTE.

Suplico said that as parties to an alleged disadvantageous deal in the Philippines, the ZTE officials involved in the allegedly anomalous contract may be held liable under the country’s anti-graft law.

“Based on these pictures alone, there may be no liability. But taken against the backdrop of the [Romulo] Neri’s cry of bribery, they may be liable under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” Suplico said.

Girlie and Gloria in HK

In Occidental Mindoro, Rep. Amelita “Girlie” Villarosa, a staunch supporter of the President, talked about the Nov. 2 golf game and lunch meeting that President Arroyo had with ZTE officials in Shenzhen.

“I’m not saying anything, kumadre ko si Gina, bahala na kayong magbasa (Gina is my co-godmother, it’s up to you to read between the lines),” Villarosa said in a phone interview late Saturday afternoon.

Villarosa, however, said that on Nov. 2 she went with President Arroyo to Dava Island in Hong Kong. “We rode on a small yacht,” she said.

After lunch, Villarosa said they returned to mainland Hong Kong to pack up their things. (PDI)

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