Archive for the ‘NBN Deal’ Category

Editorial Cartoon: (NBN-ZTE) Another Lozada blow

September 15, 2008

And a funny thought about it.

Key witness in NBN scam expects ‘worst’ but isn’t giving up

September 15, 2008

‘They may have won battle, but not the war’

By Thea Alberto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 14:18:00 09/15/2008

 

MANILA, Philippines — The key witness in the national broadband network controversy is expecting the “worst,” after the Court of Appeals dismissed his petition for protection under the writ of amparo, which he called a “law without justice.”

“The worst is yet to come,” said Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. Monday, anticipating more charges to be filed against him as part of the government’s move to allegedly harass him.

At the same time, Lozada said he and his lawyers would discuss whether to appeal the court decision, saying, “They may have won this battle, but they have not won the war yet.”

He also called the writ of amparo a “law without justice.”

“I cannot believe na ako pa ngayon ang lumalabas na nagsinungaling [that I am now the liar],” said Lozada, reiterating his testimony that if the media had not been determined to find him at the time that he was reported missing, he could have been dead by now.

The appeals court ruled that there was no evidence of threats to his life when security men took him from the airport last February.

In an interview Monday, Lozada Jr. maintained that he was kidnapped by government security to prevent him from testifying at the Senate, which at that time was investigating the multimillion-dollar telecommunications contract with China’s ZTE Corporation.

Lozada said that if he was not kidnapped, why did security officials hide him from his family, brought him to a remote area in Los Banos, Laguna, and then forced him to sign a security request he purportedly asked.

Lozada also reacted to the statement of Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon that the court ruling was a vindication. Razon was among the key officials tagged in the controversy for supposedly forcing Lozada to sign a security request.

“If it’s a vindication coming from a court of justice ‘yung talagang patas na hukuman, ok lang [a court of justice that has no bias, it’s ok]. Pero kung vindication galing sa grupo-grupo nila, hindi vindication yan [But if it’s a vindication that has come from their group, then that is not vindication]. The real vindication is what the people believe.” said Lozada.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo has filed perjury charges against Lozada who implicated him in the NBN scam.

Lozada said it was “his faith” that had kept him going but added that despite this, he had “always been afraid for myself and family.” He added that he would continue giving talks to schools and villages regarding the NBN controversy.

Last week, the court rejected the claim of Lozada, 45, former head of the environmental state agency Philippine Forest Corp., that he was abducted by security men on his return to the country on February 5 from Hong Kong. He had gone abroad to avoid summons to appear before the Senate investigation.

Named respondents in Lozada’s petition were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, airport security chief Angel Atutubo, Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon, and Senior Police Officer 4 Rodolfo Valeroso. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was initially named in the case but was dropped by the court, saying she could not be sued while serving her term.

Editorial Cartoon: Magic Trick

July 10, 2008

Or an illusion.

De la Paz ties to Arroyo foes led to ‘removal’

July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008 05:50:00
Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang’s decision to “remove” Corazon de la Paz from the helm of the Social Security System (SSS) was due to her close ties to the Makati Business Club (MBC) and groups critical of the Arroyo administration.

This was according to a ranking government official working closely with state financial institutions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

“There were just too many issues,” the official said, referring to De la Paz’s dealings with anti-administration groups and organizations. “I think she’s too closely identified with the Makati Business Club and even the Black and White Movement.”

“Just last week, there was another,” the official added, although he declined to specify what the last straw was that prompted De la Paz’s replacement by Romulo Neri, chair of the Commission on Higher Education, effective Aug. 1.

As SSS administrator, Neri will also head a new Cabinet cluster, the National Social Welfare program, that Ms Arroyo created Tuesday.

De la Paz said that she only learned of Malacañang’s move when she received a call from Finance Secretary Margarito Teves on Tuesday night while she was attending a business meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“He called me up to tell me about the decision,” she said.

Interviewed upon arriving from a foreign business trip Wednesday afternoon, De la Paz acknowledged that politics figured in her departure from the state pension fund for workers in the private sector, but said that she submitted her resignation to Malacañang last month.

“If you are in government, there will always be politics,” she said in a telephone interview.

De la Paz refused to elaborate, however, on the political aspect of the change in leadership at the SSS, which manages P248 billion worth of assets and contributions from 27 million members.

“You know I will not answer questions like that,” she said when pressed further about the reasons for her departure.

Time to leave

The outgoing SSS chief said, however, that she had been at the helm of the pension fund for seven years already and that it was a “good time” for her to leave.

She said there was a “confluence,” of the Palace appointment of Neri as her replacement and her need for more time to take care of personal affairs.

“I need to look after my health, too,” De la Paz said.

Against Neri appointment

A number of senators are against the appointment of Neri, a reluctant witness in the Senate probe of the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal, to the SSS, saying that it could further stoke political controversies amid the economic crisis.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Neri was qualified to serve as chief executive officer of the state-run pension fund.

As part of the MBC, De la Paz joined calls for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down during the so-called Hyatt 10 crisis in 2005, in the wake of the “Hello Garci” wiretapping controversy in which Ms Arroyo allegedly rigged the 2004 presidential election in her favor. The President has denied the allegation.

Unwise, untimely

In the Senate, Sen. Manuel Roxas II described Neri’s appointment to the SSS as “unwise” and “untimely,” especially considering that Neri has “minimal, real-life experience in the marketplace to sit atop the SSS which has nearly 30 million members.”

“I would not have made the appointment. These are turbulent times for the country—the stock market is volatile, the peso is losing steam, and we are beset with global uncertainties,” he said. This appointment will just drive unneeded political controversy.”

Sen. Francis Escudero said that Neri had already proved that he placed the interest of Ms Arroyo above the interest of the public when he refused to divulge what the President had told him after telling her that he was offered P200 million to favor the overpriced ZTE Corp. contract for the $329-million NBN deal.

The deal, which is being investigated by the Senate, was scrapped amid allegations that officials, including the President and her husband, received bribes from the Chinese telecommunication firm. The First Couple have denied the charges.

Off limits

“I am worried that he would take over the private money of private citizens that should be off limits to the political or financial interests of anybody in government. I just hope and pray that he will not spend the SSS’ money for political gains,” Escudero said.

Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal was surprised by the changing of the guard at the SSS. “People who have anomalies hanging over their heads should not be appointed in any government position,” she said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said naming another political appointee to a state pension fund, like Government Service Insurance System chief Winston Garcia, would send an alarming signal of Ms Arroyo’s plans on the SSS and GSIS funds, especially with the coming elections.

Ermita said concerns over the management of the pension fund was “definitely on the mind of a fellow like Secretary Neri” who, he said, was told by the President: “Don’t put in jeopardy the SSS interest or its members.”

“Everyone knows the competence as an economist and as an executive of Secretary Neri,” Ermita said, pointing out that before joining the Cabinet, Neri had served as chief of the Congressional Planning and Budget Office of the House of Representatives and professor at the Asian Institute of Management.

Neri will serve as SSS administrator with Cabinet rank and head the newly launched national social welfare program of government.

Covered by executive privilege

With the SSS being elevated to a Cabinet portfolio, Neri will be covered by the doctrine of executive privilege, Ermita said.

This means that Neri will continue to be barred from disclosing details discussed during Cabinet meetings or conversations with the President, including his knowledge of the NBN deal with ZTE Corp. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Michael Lim Ubac

Ombudsman orders FG, Abalos to comment on affidavits of NBN-ZTE witnesses

July 4, 2008

By Edu Punay
Friday, July 4, 2008

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First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and other respondents were ordered yesterday by the Office of the Ombudsman to comment on the affidavits of key witnesses to alleged anomalies in the $329-million national broadband network project granted to Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus said investigators will collate all affidavits submitted by businessman Jose de Venecia III, Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. and engineer Dante Madriaga affirming their testimonies before the Senate and send them to the respondents for immediate response.

“We will give them time to comment or reply on the affidavits of affirmation submitted by the witnesses, which have been accepted as part of the complaints,” he told The STAR over the phone.

“They could file additional counter-affidavits if necessary. Itís always important to observe due process.”

De Jesus said the investigating panel might conduct further hearings and call on any of the complainants, respondents and witnesses for “further clarification.”

“A lawyer of one of the respondents said during earlier hearing that they would ask for 120 days (or four months) to reply on the affidavits since they would have to comment on statements in the 5,000-page transcript from the Senate,” he said.

“They would be given time to inspect transcript or obtain their own copies. But I think 120 days would be too lengthy.”

Once the respondents have commented on the affidavits of the witnesses, the panel would consolidate all seven complaints and issue a uniform decision whether or not to charge the respondents before the Sandiganbayan, De Jesus said.

Lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr., a complainant in four cases against Mr. Arroyo and Abalos, sought the affirmation of the Senate testimonies of the key witnesses.

In his affidavit prepared by Francisco, Lozada affirmed his Senate testimony that Mr. Arroyo and Abalos were involved in the supposedly overpriced deal with ZTE Corp.

Lozada did not sign the 5,000 pages of the transcript in which his testimony appeared as required by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Instead he certified the transcript of stenographic notes from the Senate as “true copies.”

In his Senate testimony, Lozada narrated how “Chairman Abalos wanted to protect his $130-million commission on the project.”

The project was supposed to be on a build-operate-transfer basis but Abalos was insistent of having it done on loan basis, he added.

De Venecia, a son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. affirmed his Senate testimony last June 23.

Madriaga affirmed his Senate testimony before the Office of the Ombudsman last June 5. As technical consultant to the NBN deal, he affirmed under oath his statement that President Arroyo and her husband were involved in the controversial project.

In his 20-page defense, Mr. Arroyo claimed that the charges against him were “replete with innuendos, speculations and false assumptions.”

He denied that he threatened Jose de Venecia III for trying to bid for the NBN project.

Abalos was accused of graft in six of the seven cases while Mr. Arroyo was respondent in four. (PhilStar)

Editorial Cartoon: The Lunch

June 2, 2008

Lutong Macao

ZTE lunch was ‘turning point’ — De Venecia

June 2, 2008

By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:53:00 06/02/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The lunch hosted by executives of ZTE Corp. of China for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Shenzhen in November 2006 was the “turning point” for the government policy of building a National Broadband Network (NBN), former Speaker Jose de Venecia said over the weekend.

De Venecia said that before the lunch tendered by the Chinese telecom executives, Ms Arroyo was for in favor of undertaking the NBN through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme which would not have cost the Philippine government anything.

“But after the golf game, during lunch, it changed,” De Venecia said in an interview.

De Venecia was with Ms Arroyo’s party during that visit to China. The meeting with ZTE executives for a round of golf and lunch in Shenzhen was kept secret by Malacañang.

Asked if by “changed” he meant that the project would no longer be a BOT undertaking, the Pangasinan lawmaker said: “Yes. It was the turning point.”

ZTE eventually won the contract through a government-to-government deal that stipulated that China would lend the Philippines the money for the project. But the project was cancelled after the Senate opened an inquiry into reports of bribes and kickbacks in the $329-million deal.

Timing not right

De Venecia, who was ousted from the House leadership earlier this year after his son—a rival bidder for the project—linked the President’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo to the NBN deal, gave no more information about the lunch meeting.

The Pangasinan lawmaker said he was still not ready to take the stand before the Senate blue ribbon committee to finish the story of that secret lunch meeting.

He said he had just recovered from the flu and would undergo a medical checkup this week to make sure he is in top shape physically when he finally decides to “tell all” about the ZTE-NBN deal.

He also reiterated his worries about the timing of his testimony and said it may be prudent to wait until the crisis brought about by the high cost of fuel and food has somehow eased.

Opposition leaders, among them former President Joseph Estrada, have expressed impatience over De Venecia’s hesitation in talking to the Senate.

Estrada, in a phone interview Saturday night, said De Venecia would have to brace himself for the backlash of his testimony, but he should testify “if he is serious about his own advocacy of a moral revolution.”

Senate President Manuel Villar had hinted that De Venecia could find the tables turned against him once he takes his seat at the Senate committee hearing. Nobody can stop any senator from asking De Venecia about his involvement in contracts other than the ZTE-NBN deal, Villar said.

In the end, the decision on whether or not to testify lies with De Venecia. “He knows what will happen or what will not happen more than anyone of us,” Villar said in an interview over dzBB ratio.

’I’ve nothing to hide’

De Venecia’s testimony was sought after pictures taken by a member of the party showed him with Ms Arroyo playing golf in Shenzhen with persons who were presumably ZTE officials.

De Venecia, however, dismissed insinuations he was delaying his testimony before the Senate because he was afraid the inquiry would lead to other controversial deals, some of which have been linked to him.

“I can’t wait to explain these deals. I have nothing to hide,” De Venecia said.

But De Venecia again stressed the need for “proper timing.”

Threat of martial law

He warned of the administration turning to martial law if a highly charged political issue worsened the economic situation.

“I do not wish to add to the problems facing our government and our people. And I certainly do not wish to create a political crisis that could provoke a declaration of martial law in any manner or form,” De Venecia said in a statement.

“I know that we Filipinos are used to living on the brink of political crisis but the national and global situation right now may be even more serious than we ourselves imagine,” he added.

De Venecia said that the ZTE-NBN controversy may prevent the country’s political and economic leaders from dealing with the steeply rising cost of living “in unity.”

Bracing for protracted war

On his concerns over his health, De Venecia said that he needed to be assured he is in top shape physically to take on what he believes will be a lengthy process.

“(In April), I was brought unconscious to a hospital in Doha, Qatar, after I delivered a speech and before my flight to South Africa (for the International Parliamentary Union conference). I have to fully regain my health,” De Venecia said.

“I have decided not to speak out on the ZTE scandal at this particular time. For I believe that when I testify it will be the beginning of a protracted and long drawn-out conflict and I must stay the course,” he added.

Editorial Cartoon: The Cold Threat

June 1, 2008

Singahan na!

JDV ready to testify after bout with flu

June 1, 2008

BY WENDELL VIGILIA

PANGASINAN Rep. Jose de Venecia yesterday said he is ready to tell everything he knows about the anomalous $329 million national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

“I reiterate my commitment to testify in the Senate,” the former Speaker said.

He noted he needed time to recuperate from “influenza and fatigue” after attending an energy forum in Russia.

De Venecia has said he was just waiting for the “perfect” opportunity to reveal his knowledge about the negotiations in the broadband project, which he said may be enough to cause the downfall of the Arroyo administration.

De Venecia said he will have a comprehensive check-up next week to prepare for a “protracted issue that may last up to three months.”

“I have to make sure that I’m in good shape because I have so many things to say,” he said.

In a privilege speech on the eve of his ouster as Speaker last Feb. 5, De Venecia said the NBN controversy, which involves at least P6 billion in kickbacks, “is putting Malacañang ever closer to the center of a firestorm.”

De Venecia also recited a litany of allegations against the President, which included massive cheating in 2004 elections.

De Venecia accompanied President Arroyo and Mike Arroyo to Shenzhen, China supposedly to play golf with officials of ZTE Corp., one of the proponents of the broadband project, in December 2006.

Malacañang has said the President has no reason to be threatened by De Venecia’s pronouncements and even warned that he might incriminate himself in his bid to get back at the President.

De Venecia’s political relationship with the President turned sour after his son Joey, co-owner of Amsterdam Holdings Inc., told the Senate which was also interested in the broadband project, that Mike Arroyo told him to “back off” from the project.(Malaya)

Barangay RP Advisory: National Youth Assembly sa UP-D!

May 29, 2008

VACATION IS OVER!
FULL STRENGTH ANEW FOR YOUTH POWER!

YOUTH ACT NOW! (Youth for Accountability and Truth Now!)

invites you to its

National Youth Assembly
May 30, 1:00-6:00pm
College of Education Auditorium
University of the Philippines- Diliman


Youth and students from different schools, universities and communities in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Batangas, Central Luzon, Bicol, Panay, Davao, Iloilo, Negros, Ilocos Regions, Tacloban and Cordillera Regions will gather together tomorrow, May 30, 2008, to renew and pledge their commitment in the fight for truth, accountability and social change.

Guest speakers are Rodolfo ‘Jun’ Lozada, Joey de Venecia and Bro. Eddie Villanueva.

Fireworks display at the end of the program will symbolize the ‘start of the school year with a bang.’

Media coverage is requested.

Reference: Sarah Katrina Maramag, 09193486790/ Alvin Peters, 09206209362

Lozada asks Ombudsman for immunity from suit

May 28, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — A key witness in the Senate inquiry into the national broadband network (NBN) deal on Wednesday asked the Office of the Ombudsman for immunity from any suit that may be filed in connection with the scandal-tainted contract.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman panel conducting the preliminary investigation into the seven complaints filed in connection with the NBN deal gave resigned Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. five days to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for not showing up at the hearing as he had been required to.

Abalos is still on a Caribbean cruise with his wife. He was represented by his lawyer, Gabriel Vilareal.

At the Wednesday hearing, Ombudsman panel Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. was asked if he wanted to affirm his testimony before the Senate.

Lozada’s lawyer, Ernesto Francisco, replied that they had “deep reservations” in doing so because some of the testimony could be self-incriminating.

The lawyer was referring to answers Lozada gave on questioning by Senator Miriam Santiago of a project involving the planting of jatropha during the time the Senate witness was president of the Philippine Forest Corp.

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed graft charges against Lozada for the project.

The Ombudsman panel gave Lozada and fellow NBN witnesses Jose de Venecia III, Dante Madriaga and journalist Jarius Bondoc seven days to review the affidavits of their Senate testimonies.

Wednesday was the first time Lozada and De Venecia III showed up together at the Ombudsman’s probe into the NBN deal.

The two have testified before the Senate about the alleged kickbacks surrounding the NBN contract awarded to China’s ZTE Corp., to which First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. have been linked.

The $329-million deal was cancelled late last year by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo soon after the Senate opened its probe.(PDI)

Government says it’s ready to protect Lozada

May 25, 2008

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:50:00 05/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The government is more than willing to be the protector of key Senate witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr. after the Senate cut the number of his security detail on May 1.

Presidential Management Staff Secretary Cerge Remonde said on Saturday it was actually to the “best interest’’ of the government to ensure Lozada’s safety.

Interviewed over government radio dzRB, Remonde said Malacañang and the Philippine National Police would “always be ready to provide security to Lozada and any Filipino for that matter needing their help.’’

“We are always concerned over the security of Mr. Lozada because if anything will happen to Mr. Lozada, the tendency is that it will always be blamed on the government,’’ Remonde said.

He reiterated his earlier warning that it was possible “some of the people who used him might find him (Lozada) more useful dead than alive.’’

“So it is in the best interest of the government to also ensure his security,’’ he said.

The Senate has cut the number of those assigned to protect Lozada to four security men and two drivers, according to Sister Estrella Castolone of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, who has given him refuge after Lozada charged in a Senate hearing in February that irregularities attended the now scrapped $329-million government telecommunications deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile had sought the removal of Lozada’s security detail after learning of the mounting expenses paid by the Senate to protect the witness.

To date, the Senate has spent nearly P2 million for security and food arrangements for both Lozada and another key witness in the NBN-ZTE deal, Dante Madriaga.

Lozada unfazed by move to cut out-of-town trips

May 24, 2008

NBN-ZTE star witness Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada yesterday said the Senate has told him to stop his out-of-town speaking trips, saying that it could no longer afford the expenses of providing security.

Lozada was unfazed. Told that there may have been Malacañang pressure to gag him, he said no amount of pressure or threats could force him to stop his crusade.

“Tuloy pa rin ang krusada at wala na itong atrasan,” he said.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) which has taken Lozada under its protection was disappointed.

Sr. Estrella Castalone branded the order as a “way to scare off” potential witnesses from coming out in the open against corruption in the administration.

“What about the risks taken by Jun when he came out of the open? I don’t think this is the right decision. I don’t think money is the reason here, there’s something other than money here,” she said.

She said they had been repeatedly assured by Senate President Manuel Villar and Blue Ribbon chair Alan Peter Cayetano that money was no problem.

But she said that Lozada’s security detail complained they were having a hard time getting travel orders.

She said Senate officials told her on May 1 the Senate could only provide a four-man security detail.

Lozada originally had an eight-man security detail which was later cut to six, four of whom covered his out-of-town trips.

Castalone said if money was the problem, the ARMSP and other non-government organizations were more than willing to shoulder the expenses but said that what is at issue is not about the money but rather the truth.

“They are practically accomplices to the move to gag Lozada. Is Jun’s life worth only P2 million considering that what he told enabled the country to save P16 billion?” Castalone said. – Ashzel Hachero(Malaya)

New NBN-ZTE witness wavering

May 18, 2008

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)

KMU warns: Anti-militant ads will abet killings

May 18, 2008

MANILA, Philippines – A labor group on Friday criticized actor-satirist Manuel Urbano Jr. (a.k.a. Jun Urbano) for starring in a government bank infomercial depicting militant groups as troublemakers even as it said that the recent killing of a peasant leader was the ‘opening salvo’ of a new campaign against militants.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) warned Urbano he could be held responsible if the commercials of the Development Bank of the Philippines trigger another wave of extra-judicial killings.

“It has been observed that for the last few days a black propaganda against militant legal organizations, purportedly a patriotic commercial TV ad, have been shown in TV programs with Mr. Shooli (Jun Urbano) as lead actor,”the KMU said.

“With flags of KMU and League of Filipino Students providing ad backdrop, Jun Urbano warns off militant organizations and disparage concerted mass actions and people power-type mobilizations in affecting social changes,” the KMU added.

The statement was posted on Friday night in its website.

Urbano gained fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s with his portrayal of the “Mr. Shooli,” a Mongolian trying to learn the ways of the Philippines.

Mr. Shooli, who “starred” in the television and movie satire “Mongolian Barbecue,” poked fun at government officials during its run.

But now, KMU said the DBP commercial declares the illusory “pagbabago’y nasa sarili” or self-remolding as alternative solution to Philippine crisis.

“By allowing himself to be used in such devious commercial, and in the context of the menacing Oplan Bantay Laya, Jun Urbano contributes in putting in danger the safety of the progressive activists. And he could be held guilty and accountable in future extra-judicial killings by the military,” KMU said.

It added the ad was reminiscent of a similar move in 2007 where an anti-KMU black propaganda full-length VCD starring Bembol Roco was circulated in factories, communities and rally areas.

KMU said no solution to the extra-judicial killing of peasant leader Celso Pujas of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas can be expected from President Arroyo, whom it described as “the tyrant herself, the practitioner of state terrorism.”

“And no real and honest investigation can be expected from the PNP, the AFP and the department of justice because their preoccupation is to cover up and let the death squads continue their dirty and murderous acts and discredit the human rights organizations and fact-finding missions,” it said. – GMANews.TV

Editorial Cartoon: Mr. Shooli, Poster Boy

May 17, 2008

Pagbabago nga.

Razon: Bigger story behind Lozada story

May 17, 2008

MANILA, Philippines–Something big was brewing when the then potential whistle-blower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada was seized from the airport and taken on a long ride by state agents in February, according to the country’s top policeman.

But when asked if an attempt to unseat President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was under way at that time, Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon merely smiled and shrugged.

“There are things about it that I cannot yet reveal,” Razon told Inquirer editors and reporters over dinner at the newspaper’s main office last week.

Razon dropped the hint of a bigger story behind the big story in exasperation at being grilled over his supposed role as the “sacrificial lamb” in the Lozada “abduction,” which was widely believed to be a bungled government operation.

The controversy over the $329-million, scandal-ridden National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. was then in top boil.

On Feb. 5, Lozada, the consultant of former National Economic and Development Authority chief Romulo Neri in the NBN-ZTE project, flew in from Hong Kong where he had been advised to hole up to evade testifying at the Senate inquiry into the deal.

It was his wife’s tearful plea over radio that he be produced by whoever had taken him that alerted the media.

Lozada later told a press conference that he was seized from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport by government officials and personnel unknown to him, put in a car with “military-looking” men, and taken for a long drive south of Metro Manila before being reunited with his family at La Salle Green Hills.

He eventually testified at the Senate that the since scrapped NBN-ZTE deal was overpriced to include fat kickbacks.

‘True’ to his oath

According to Razon, however, the police “saved” Lozada’s life when he arrived from Hong Kong.

“We just did our job and we were accused of kidnapping and attempted murder,” the PNP chief said, adding:

“The abduction–that’s wrong. People were made to believe that he was abducted.”

Asked whether he was concerned that many people’s high regard for him as a principled officer was eroded when he desperately tried to rationalize the airport incident, he said: “I am not aware of comments like that. I am not alarmed. I’ve been true to my oath of office.”

Razon said Lozada and his sister, Carmen, had sought police protection although the PNP did not know exactly who Lozada was afraid of. He reiterated that Lozada did not say who was threatening him.

“The police saved Lozada’s life. We protected him from those who posed a threat to his life,” the PNP chief said.

He added that because it was a security operation to protect a person’s life, its “blow by blow” details would naturally not be disclosed.

Credibility war

Razon admitted that the PNP was facing an “image problem.” But he pointed out that the public was apparently choosing to see only the scalawags that make up a small percent of the entire police force.

He said the October 2007 explosion at the Glorietta shopping mall in Makati City saw the PNP in a “credibility war” against Ayala Corp., one of the Philippines’ biggest.

“Despite the police image problem, the saving grace of the PNP was that our findings held [their] own. Our findings were based on evidence,” Razon said.

According to the PNP, the explosion was caused by an accumulation of gases in the basement of the mall–a conclusion disputed by the mall owners.

Lozada and his family remain under the protection of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines.

Speaking Friday at the “No Holds Barred” media forum at the National Press Club, Lozada said the government had been taking measures to discredit him and derail his avowed crusade for truth. (PDI)

NBI files malversation charges vs Lozada

May 17, 2008

MANILA, Philippines–Charges of malversation of public funds were filed Friday by the National Bureau of Investigation against Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada in connection with a P19.6-million fund supposedly intended for the jatropha project of Philippine Forest Corp. (PhilForest).

Also charged with the same offense at the Department of Justice was PhilForest vice president Gerardo Carino, said lawyer Allan Contado, chief of the NBI antigraft division. Lozada is the former president of PhilForest.

According to the NBI investigation, PhilForest and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Nov. 28, 2006, for the implementation of the Economic Productivity Act of Idle Public Lands through the Establishment of Fiber Crops and Jatropha Curcas I Plantations.

Neda provided the fund amounting to P19,630,923–also referred to as the “KR-2 fund”–but the respondents reportedly deposited it in a PhilForest savings account originally intended for the company’s operating costs instead of in a separate trust fund.

With the respondents’ alleged approval, PhilForest released P14,487,322 to the Philippine Army on Nov. 14, 2006.

Separate MOA

The balance of the KR-2 fund was invested with Insular Life Assurance Co., a private entity, and was not used in a PhilForest-related project, the NBI said.

Under a separate MOA between PhilForest and the Army, the latter was assigned to develop nurseries for fiber crops and jatropha in selected idle public lands for mass propagation, and to establish several hectares to showcase production technology and generate income for farmers.

It was later learned that the amount released to the Army was returned to PhilForest because the defense secretary apparently did not approve the agreement.

The money was redeposited into PhilForest’s savings account, the NBI said.

According to the NBI, the release of P14 million to the Army was a violation of the law because the implementation of the project was solely delegated to PhilForest and not to another government agency.

“A scrutiny of the MOA between Neda and PhilForest, as well as the project documents, clearly revealed that the project should only be implemented by PhilForest,” the NBI said.

‘Misappropriation’

“Furthermore, it is not clear as to how the project would be implemented by the [Army] considering that the project requires technical skills of an expert in agriculture and forestry,” it said.

Contado said the KR-2 fund was “misappropriated, considering that it was invested for a purpose other than the intended.”

“And besides, there was no board resolution allowing the transfer as well as the investment of public funds to a private corporation,” he said.

Contado also said the NBI investigation was prompted by allegations raised against Lozada during the Senate inquiry into the controversial National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

During a hearing, administration Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago portrayed Lozada as a self-dealing government executive with political ambitions who acted as an agent for businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III.

Trail of irregularities

Santiago cited documents purportedly showing a trail of irregularities that Lozada had committed as PhilForest chief, including a P5-million insurance policy taken out by the corporation with Insular Life, with his wife acting as the agent.

She rattled off a list of contracts entered into by Gabriel Multimedia Services owned by Lozada’s brother that did not go through the mandatory bidding, and questioned Lozada’s purchase of two vehicles purportedly for PhilForest’s use. (PDI)

Senate woos De Venecia to be next NBN-ZTE star witness

May 17, 2008

MANILA, Philippines–The Senate blue ribbon committee is wooing former Speaker Jose de Venecia to be the next star witness in its inquiry into the scandal-ridden National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Committee chair Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said Friday that De Venecia’s testimony could provide a fitting “bookend” to the earlier expose made by the ex-Speaker’s son and namesake, businessman Joey de Venecia, about alleged anomalies in the now-scrapped project.

“If he can provide complete information on how the project was changed from a build-operate-and-transfer (BOT) project to a loan-type project, we can say that the investigation is 99.99-percent complete,” said Cayetano, chair of the committee on accountability of public officers and investigations.

Cayetano did not say what was holding the former Speaker from testifying at the inquiry, although his wife, Gina de Venecia, had volunteered to share her knowledge of the supposedly “secret” meeting in Shenzhen, China, between President Macapagal-Arroyo and ZTE officials on Nov. 2, 2006.

The Pangasinan lawmaker was with the President’s party during the visit to Shenzhen.

Cayetano said he had been trying to convince De Venecia to testify on the NBN project as well as on Ms Arroyo’s meeting with ZTE officials since December 2007, or two months before he was toppled from the speakership.

In his exit speech then, De Venecia said: “I will join the opposition to denounce corruption in this administration. I will join the battle against corruption.”

Malacañang, which has said that Ms Arroyo’s meeting with ZTE officials was a social visit, Friday said that the former Speaker could best explain what happened at the meeting.

“He was there. If anything took place, he would be a very credible witness because he was there,” Bunye said.

For the third straight day, the Palace defended Ms Arroyo’s daylong trip–which included a game of golf at the Shenzhen Golf Club and a lunch meeting with ZTE officials at the company headquarters–as “a social activity.”

Five months after that meeting, ZTE bagged the $329-million NBN contract that Ms Arroyo subsequently scrapped.

“This was a regular activity. It just so happened the President squeezed this social lunch into her private time,” Bunye told reporters in a forum at the Ambassador Hotel in Malate, Manila.

He said it was not a secret meeting, as is being claimed by the opposition, because De Venecia was also there.

On the other hand, Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, an administration ally, said De Venecia was not the best person to talk about what transpired at the meeting.

“The problem with JDV is that he’s not an impartial person to be asked. He’s not an objective person to ask on the matter especially since his son lost in the bidding,” Cerilles said on the phone.

De Venecia’s son, Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, owns the majority shares in Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), which lost out on its bid for the NBN contract. He was one of the key witnesses in the Senate inquiry into the deal that was allegedly overpriced to accommodate fat kickbacks.

Opposition Rep. Salvador Escudero of Sorsogon, said anything that De Venecia would say about the meeting would raise questions because he was “part of the whole thing.”

“They were all together from the beginning. So it will just be the word of one against the other. Anything they say, I will take with a grain of salt,” Escudero told the Inquirer.

Nevertheless, he said information on the meeting in Shenzhen was worth looking into by the Senate.

“Since they started it, they should finish it,” Escudero said.

Logic plus evidence

Cayetano dismissed concerns that De Venecia might be too biased against Ms Arroyo that the public would dismiss his testimony as sour grapes.

“The public may or may not believe a person, but they will believe his statement depending on its simple logic plus the evidence backing it up,” Cayetano said, adding:

“Whether the public believes him or not is not important. Anyone present at the meeting and with personal knowledge of it should come forward.

“Barring any other angle or side of the story which we may not know about, or barring any other witness, the elder De Venecia’s statement may just be the bookend opposite that of the younger De Venecia.”

In his own testimony to the Senate in September 2007, Joey de Venecia narrated how AHI and its BOT proposal was eased out by ZTE and its purported deal broker, then Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos.

Joey de Venecia questioned why the NBN turned from a BOT project (where the private sector would make all the investments without any government funding) into a loan undertaking, with the Arroyo administration borrowing from Chinese banks.

Cayetano expressed the belief that the closed-door meeting between Ms Arroyo and ZTE officials, which was attended by the elder De Venecia, could hold the key to the sudden change in the NBN project policy.

Abalos lied

Cayetano reiterated his call for Ms Arroyo to come clean on the golf game and meeting, especially in light of Abalos’ testimony on the matter at the Senate hearing on Sept. 26, 2007.

The senator noted that Abalos had denied that the First Couple met with ZTE officials in Shenzhen, and that it took the Palace nearly eight months to correct Abalos’ statement.

“They (Malacañang) knew Abalos was lying. Why did they not speak out? We have to ask Mr. Abalos again why he lied to the committee. What is it about that meeting that he did not want the public to know?” Cayetano said.

Asked to comment on the opposition’s claim that Ms Arroyo should have been forthcoming about her visit to the ZTE headquarters, Bunye merely shrugged and said:

“The President has been very active in inviting businessmen to the Philippines with investments. Of course, we know there will be new jobs and opportunities, and every time the opposition takes a dig at the activities of the President in inviting investments, they lessen our competitiveness … and our ability to attract foreign direct foreign investments.”

Cerilles sounded the same note: “Let’s look at the intention of the President to do good for the country. There’s nothing for her to explain. Presidents go out of their way to entice investors to invest here.

“It is the Filipino people who will judge her for what she has done for the country after her stint.”

‘I missed the event’

Bunye also said that when he told the Inquirer early this week that he was not aware of Ms Arroyo’s trip to Shenzhen, it was because he did not know about it.

He said he was not part of the presidential party that visited Shenzhen.

Bunye said he had invited his wife to join him in Hong Kong after Ms Arroyo’s official trip to China late in October. He said he and his wife “left the presidential entourage, so I missed the event.”

“In this particular case, the President did what she has been doing–a continuation of her activity to attract investors to the Philippines,” Bunye said.

“This is nothing unusual, not a secret meeting, because JDV was there. If there had been something irregular discussed in that meeting, perhaps JDV should have spoken between Nov. 2 and the time of the signing of contract,” he said. (PDI)

NBN witness will testify despite Palace admission–Suplico

May 16, 2008

ILOILO CITY — Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico said on Thursday his witness had said what he knew and had little to add about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s meeting with the ZTE Corp. officials in China in November 2006.

“All major allegations have been admitted. Except for a few details, there is no more to say and prove,” he said.

But Suplico said his witness would still be willing to testify during the Senate investigation on the cancelled national broadband network (NBN) project although they had yet to receive an invitation as of Thursday.

Suplico said he believed that the revelation of his witness would affect the final report of the Senate’s blue ribbon committee, which was investigating the scrapped agreement.

“We don’t expect earthquakes and lightning after the exposé. We are only after the truth,” Suplico said.

He also noted that Malacañang’s admission that the President met with ZTE officials in China showed that the President “once again lied.”

“The President was caught lying. If this happened in another country, the President and all her appointed officials would have already resigned,” Suplico told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Suplico said the admission affirmed the revelation of the witness that the President, along with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, had an unannounced meeting with ZTE officials at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, five months before the NBN contract was signed.

He said the President “had no business talking with a supplier” five months before the signing of the contract.

Malacañang said that there was nothing wrong with the First Couple’s meeting with ZTE officials in China, saying it was a private and social activity.

“Why the secrecy? It took a year and a half [for Malacañang] to disclose this? This is unacceptable behavior from a chief executive,” Suplico asked.

Suplico who is handling the witness whom he identifies only as “Alex” also denied the allegations of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a staunch ally of the President, that the witness was lawyer Alex Avisado Jr. “Alex is not Alex Avisado. He’s not JDV [Jose de Venecia] either,” said Suplico.

He said the witness’ identity would be made public if the senators were to summon him to the Senate hearing.

Meanwhile, Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada said Suplico’s disclosure was a “political smokescreen” to put Malacañang in a tight spot and prevent the Office of the President from imposing a suspension against him based brought about by an administrative case.

Mejorada filed a complaint against Suplico for alleged oppression, grave misconduct, and abuse of authority before the Office of the President for allegedly using his position to harass the administrator and take away the appropriations for the salaries and wages of his office.

But Suplico called the case filed by Mejorada a frivolous complaint.

He also urged Mejorada and his group to attend the NBN hearings if they wanted to comment on the case. (PDI)

Lozada to fight BI watchlist

May 16, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — Rodolfo Lozada Jr., the key witness in Senate investigation into the national broadband network (NBN) deal, intends to challenge his inclusion in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) watchlist, claiming his freedom of movement must not be curtailed by the government.

Speaking at the “No Holds Barred” media forum at the National Press Club Thursday, Lozada said he would continue to exercise his right to travel freely and tagged his inclusion on the watchlist as another government move to flex its muscles against him.

“It is my right. I am not indebted to them (government) for my freedom of movement,” Lozada stressed, calling his inclusion in the watchlist unreasonable since no cases have yet been filed against him.

“The laws here really vary among those who are influential and those without power. Charges are yet to be filed against me but I am already in the watchlist,” he said.

The NBN deal witness stressed that he would not leave the country but would seek his name’s removal from the watchlist.

“I do not want to leave this country…I would like to die here,” Lozada maintained.

During the forum, he recounted other incidents he claimed were party of government efforts to discredit him and discourage him from proceeding with his crusade.

He said his 12-year-old daughter was almost kidnapped last March 4 from her school when a former employee attempted to fetch her, pretending to have been asked by her parents.

Fortunately, the girl knew what to do and called up her mother, who instructed her to stay put and asked school authorities not to allow anyone to fetch her until she arrived.

In Bohol, he said, pamphlets were distributed blaming him for the high prices of gasoline and rice. “Even some priests in the provinces are speaking against me,” he lamented. (PDI)

‘Why did Arroyo not admit ZTE meet sooner?’

May 16, 2008

MANILA, Philippines–PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday continued to draw flak for meeting with ZTE Corp. officials in Shenzhen, China, five months before the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project was awarded to the Chinese telecommunications firm.

Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico, whose witness had presented pictures of the First Couple at the Shenzhen Golf Club, said the President committed impeachable offenses when she met secretly with the ZTE officials on Nov. 2, 2006, and withheld this information from the people.

Senators Mar Roxas and Francis Escudero said Ms Arroyo should personally explain the circumstances and the agenda of the meeting. They said that given the corruption scandal surrounding the scuttled NBN-ZTE deal, she could not brush off the meeting as a simple “private, social” activity.

Two ex-members of Ms Arroyo’s Cabinet–former Secretaries Florencio Abad (education) and Teresita Quintos-Deles (peace process)–said the President should come clean on the details of the meeting instead of dismissing its disclosure as a political gimmick.

Never mentioned it before

Suplico sought to counter Malacañang’s statements on Wednesday that Ms Arroyo’s golf game and subsequent lunch with ZTE officials were neither secret nor irregular.

“For one-and-a-half years since Nov. 2, 2006, she never disclosed she went to the ZTE headquarters,” the lawmaker said, adding:

“In her interview with Joe Taruc of dzRH, she said she learned about the flaws of the contract only on the eve of [its] signing. That time, she never mentioned she went to ZTE five months earlier, and now her officials are saying the trip was not secret?”

‘Admission of allegations’

Suplico said the Palace’s confirmation of Ms Arroyo’s visit to the ZTE headquarters was a virtual admission of the charges that she and her husband were involved in the NBN-ZTE deal.

He noted the statement by the lawyer of ex-Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos that the latter had arranged the golf and lunch meeting:

“This is an admission of the allegations. In court, when there is an admission, there will be no trial anymore. But we know we cannot sue the President unless she is impeached or removed from office.”

Suplico said Ms Arroyo had “engaged in condemnable acts” because she went out of her way to meet with suppliers who later bagged the NBN contract.

He said the President violated her oath of office because she lied to the people, the AntiGraft and Corrupt Practices Act when she gave undue preference to ZTE, and the rules on bidding because no bidding was held for the NBN contract.

Senator Roxas said Ms Arroyo should “directly explain” to the public “the agenda and nature” of her trip to Shenzhen.

“Otherwise, this social encounter may be misconstrued as the reason behind the sudden shift from a build-operate-transfer project to a supply contract with a sovereign guarantee,” Roxas said.

Questions

“It’s sad to know that the President herself had to visit the headquarters of ZTE Corp. in China. Even if you say this is just a ‘social meeting,’ there could not be a different standard for the President on one hand and for lower-ranked government officials on the other,” he said.

For Senator Escudero, the fundamental questions were: “What was really discussed there? What are the circumstances behind the meeting, how did they meet there, and was the decision to award them a contract finalized there?”

Escudero said a president could “not just be brought anywhere to meet people.”

“Government officials have to be above suspicion,” he said.

Roxas said that because Ms Arroyo was the head of state, all her meetings were part of her official functions “and subject to full transparency, unless they involve sensitive matters of national security–which was not the case in the Shenzhen visit.”

Full disclosure

Abad and Deles–who are among the convenors of Former Senior Government Officials, a group that has demanded good governance, among other things, from the President– said a full disclosure by Ms Arroyo would end the speculation about the meeting in Shenzhen.

“She must come forward and say, “I went to the meeting, and this was what was discussed,'” Abad told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“It’s incumbent on the President to explain what transpired at the meeting rather than dismiss it as a diversionary tactic by the opposition or a mere social meeting.”

Deles agreed: “She herself must answer this. The hide and seek with the people can’t continue. If you want to be able to govern and convince people to make sacrifices amid the rising prices of goods, make yourself trustworthy.”

Abad said the secrecy of the meeting was fanning all sorts of speculations on its “real purpose.”

“At the height of the [NBN-ZTE] controversy, this was never disclosed. It had to take an exposé to force [Malacañang] to admit it. That alone creates speculation in the mind of the public about what happened,” he said. “The fact that it happened raises questions.”

Ground rules

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the blue ribbon committee, said on Wednesday the Senate would resume its inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal within two weeks.

Escudero reminded the three chairs of the joint inquiry–Senators Cayetano, Rodolfo Biazon and Roxas–to agree on the ground rules for the coming hearing in view of the Senate’s pending appeal in the Supreme Court.

The Senate has contested the high court’s ruling that upheld Neri’s right to refuse to answer questions on the President’s role in the NBN-ZTE deal on the grounds of “executive privilege.”

“The [ruling] might have a legal effect on the Senate hearing to be conducted,” Escudero said.

Suplico told the Inquirer in Iloilo City that his witness had little more to say about Ms Arroyo’s meeting with the ZTE officials.

“All major allegations have been admitted. Except for a few details, there is no more to say and prove,” he said.

But he reiterated that his witness was willing to testify in the Senate inquiry although they had yet to receive an invitation.

He expressed the belief that the revelations of his witness would affect the final report of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

“We don’t expect earthquakes and lightning after the exposé. We are only after the truth,” Suplico said.

He also said that contrary to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s statement, the witness was not lawyer Alex Avisado Jr.

“He’s not JDV (Jose de Venecia) either,” Suplico said.

‘It’s all connected’

Abad said that contrary to the Palace’s claim that the meeting was a mere “social function,” it was “improper” of the President to have met with a supplier like ZTE prior to the awarding of the contract.

“Who will argue with a statement that the President should attract investments? But if you play golf and visit the office of the supplier, that’s another matter,” he said, adding that it gave the impression that Ms Arroyo was favoring one group over another.

“What makes it also improper is that subsequently, the contract was closed,” he said.

On the phone, Deles likewise scoffed at claims that this was an ordinary meeting between Ms Arroyo and ZTE executives.

She said that if Ms Arroyo had let former National Economic and Development Authority chief Romulo Neri “speak” in the Senate inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal, “and the agents did not abduct [witness Rodolfo] Lozada, this tale would have been believable.”

“These are all connected. It confirms that she’s hiding something that she would not like the public to know,” Deles added.

But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said he saw nothing wrong with the meeting.

“And pictures can’t tell you anything unethical or unusual because, as reported, it was a social meeting,” Lagman told reporters. “What they discussed there can’t be disclosed by the pictures.”

Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco also took up the cudgels for Ms Arroyo: “Every President makes a pitch for foreign investments. In our case today, we have been trying to invite as many interested firms as possible as we are in competition with the whole region for foreign capital.” *(PDI)

ZTE meet was hush-hush, says De Venecia wife

May 16, 2008

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)

GMA says visit to ZTE HQ a ‘social meeting’

May 14, 2008

Malacañang admitted yesterday that President Arroyo was in Shenzhen, China in November 2006 for a “social meeting” with ZTE Corp. officials, but emphasized there was nothing wrong about the visit.

However, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, instead of coming out with an interim report, said it will re-open the investigation into the national broadband network (NBN) deal in the next two weeks as new witnesses are expected to come out and testify on the President’s knowledge of the anomalous project.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said there was nothing secret about the meeting and that even former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. was present during the entire visit to Shenzhen.

Ermita said the President went to Shenzhen from Hong Kong after her official trip had concluded for a private and social function involving a game of golf, lunch with ZTE officials and a factory tour.

Mrs. Arroyo visited several provinces in China from Oct. 27, 2006 and ended her official schedule in Hong Kong on Nov. 3.

“I don’t know if that is the headquarters of ZTE. What I know from information I tried to gather was that, okay, so they played golf, they were treated to lunch and then they were asked to tour the place. Now if that was ZTE then so be it,” Ermita said.

Since it was a private, social function, Malacañang’s protocol officials normally did not include this in the schedule of activities provided to the media covering the President. But Palace officials disclosed to the press the First Couple’s visit with their grandchildren to Hong Kong Disneyland.

A supposed new witness in the Senate’s inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal has released photographs showing Mrs. Arroyo on a golf course in Shenzhen with her husband. Because of the alleged anomalies that have surfaced during the Senate hearings, including reported overpricing and kickbacks, questions have been raised about the propriety of the President’s visit to Shenzhen and her meeting with ZTE officials.

There was no agreement yet with ZTE on the NBN project at the time of the Shenzhen visit.

However, Ermita admitted that Mrs. Arroyo was aware at the time that ZTE Corp. was involved in a broadband project of the government.

He said technical people in the Cabinet pushed for the project to be done on a government-to-government basis in order to ensure transparency.

Ermita said though that it was “very improbable that such a subject matter could have been discussed over a social lunch such as that one (in Shenzhen).”

He said it was possible the ZTE issue was being revived to divert attention away from the issue of Meralco’s high electricity rates.

Adding weight to this presumption, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, the President’s brother-in-law, said the issue is “nothing but a pathetic attempt to divert public attention from the shenanigans at Meralco.”

Arroyo described his former House colleague, now Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico, as an “attack dog of the Lopezes,” as it was he who brought the new witness to the TV network that the Lopez family owns for an interview.

“Meralco and its billions of pesos in pass-on charges to the public is the issue. We will not be sidetracked by anything more on ZTE because absolutely nothing had been proven in the many NBN hearings conducted by the Senate,” Arroyo insisted.

The brother of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo said Suplico should “put up or shut up,” adding that he “should back his innuendoes with evidence in the proper forum instead of engaging in rumor-mongering and trial by publicity.”

Firming up the case

Blue Ribbon committee chair Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, on the other hand, said one of those in the group had agreed to testify that Mrs. Arroyo played golf with ZTE officials and even visited the Chinese firm’s headquarters in Shenzhen in 2006 while the NBN project was being negotiated.

Cayetano identified the witness as the same person he was trying to convince to testify early on when the NBN hearings resumed in February.

A highly placed source said the new witness could explain why Mrs. Arroyo changed her stand that the NBN project should be under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme to a government-to-government loan agreement.

However, pro-administration Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago jumped the gun and identified the witness as a certain lawyer named either “Alex Aviso” or “Alex Avisado,” who worked for rebel military officers.

Avisado worked for Sen. Panfilo Lacson in the libel case filed by First Gentleman Arroyo and the senator’s men involved in the Kuratong Baleleng case.

He was also a lawyer for former military intelligence agent Vidal Doble, a Lacson witness who testified in the “Hello, Garci” cheating and wiretapping controversy.

Cayetano said Mrs. Arroyo would have a lot of explaining to do now even if the witness did not actually join the meeting inside ZTE headquarters.

“Madame President, were you there? Did you meet with the public officials? Did you meet with the ZTE officials? What did you talk about if you did meet with the ZTE officials? These are some of the questions that she needs to answer before the people,” Cayetano asked.

He said the decision of a new witness to come out was a vindication of the other witnesses who came forward and of what he disclosed earlier that there were people who could give direct testimony as to the role of the President in the NBN project aside from approving it or delegating the approval to her Cabinet secretaries.

Lacson said he did not know the new witness but this might be able to contribute to establishing the complete picture as to the President’s involvement in the anomalous transaction.

However, since Suplico’s witness was not able to attend the meeting inside the ZTE headquarters, “higher officials” might be needed to corroborate him, according to Lacson.

He would not say, however, whether former speaker De Venecia would disclose the details of the conversations at the golf course and at the ZTE office since the Pangasinan representative was supposedly present at the meetings along with Abalos. “I’m not saying it’s De Venecia, I just said let’s call him Joe,” Lacson said.

Cayetano said they were convincing De Venecia to testify since they could not summon him due to inter-parliamentary courtesy. He said the former speaker could corroborate other witnesses who provided the circumstantial evidence against Mrs. Arroyo.

It was unusual for the President, Cayetano pointed out, to meet with only one business company that later became supplier for a project when a Chief Executive would normally face business chambers or groups.

He said they will delay the committee report because of the new witnesses and evidence that might be presented in the coming hearings.

New witness holds the key

But the lawyer of the First Gentleman said a photo showing the First Couple at a golf club in Shenzhen, China would not suffice to prove their involvement in alleged anomalies in the botched broadband deal.

Lawyer Ruy Rondain downplayed the new witness as “another witness of hearsay” and issued a challenge to come out with more concrete evidence.

Rondain likewise stressed that the new witness reportedly provided by Suplico would complicate the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman.

He warned that the Ombudsman panel could even cite the new witness in contempt since “he is intervening with the investigation.”

But lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr., one of the complainants in four of seven NBN-related cases filed against Mr. Arroyo with the Ombudsman, said the new witness holds the key in proving the role of the President in the bribery scandal.

“It (testimony of new witness) confirms what all of us have known all along – that GMA is principal in this case by direct participation and should likewise be charged,” Francisco said in a text message to The STAR.

He said he believes the testimony of the new witness would also “strengthen the case against the First Gentleman and (former elections chair) Benjamin Abalos.”

“I am now looking into how I can use it in the pending Ombudsman case,” the lawyer added.

Meanwhile, the Black and White Movement (BWM) said President Arroyo should come clean, stop lying and reveal everything she knows about the deal.

“We insist that GMA come clean about her participation in the ZTE-NBN deal. To wait until 2010 gives her the time to continue to obfuscate, evade the truth, avoid justice and make the Filipino people look like dimwitted fools,” Leah Navarro, BWM convenor, said.

“Daring the new witness to go to court with his photos and story is an empty challenge. We all know GMA is immune from suit until after her term is over. We decry this act of impropriety – the President meeting with a potential investor without formal pronouncement. This meeting, certainly not a run of the mill business conference, has stripped the presidency of any dignity and has reduced the position to a shady, deal making office,” Navarro said.

Navarro said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also lied by claiming that no such golf game even happened because he had no knowledge of the event.

“That doesn’t mean it never happened. A few hours later, the claim was buttressed by an unnamed ZTE official who claimed that no such meeting at ZTE headquarters ever happened at the time,” Navarro said.

The BWM is not alone in its resurgent attack against the President.

A group of medical students has announced the staging of a different kind of “Flores de Mayo” tomorrow to dramatize their demand that the truth behind the ZTE scandal be uncovered.

Members of the League of Health Science Students (LHSS) from various medical schools and other related courses said they will march with flowers along the length of Taft Avenue.

“We want the truth exposed: Who is responsible if the people can’t afford to live in a well-ventilated and decent house, if they can’t afford to eat a decent meal in decent intervals, if they can’t afford to buy medicine whose prices are unregulated, if they can’t afford to pay hospital bills and laboratory fees,” the LHSS said in a statement.

The group said it was very obvious that someone is trying to hide the truth to avoid accountability for their actions.(PhilStar)

Editorial Cartoon: They Did It!

May 14, 2008

Ang Pagbabalik

New witness reveals First Couple’s connection to NBN-ZTE case

May 14, 2008

MANILA — A new witness in the National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE deal has surfaced, directly involving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and First Gentleman Miguel “Mike” Arroyo to the case.

Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said this is only part of the opposition’s group of “political acrobats”, adding that instead of exposing Arroyo to the public, the new witness should just bring it straight to the courts.

“Alex”, the new witness, claimed that he has pictures to prove that the President and the First Gentleman personally visited the ZTE headquarters in Shenzhen, China to meet with corporate officials.

Pictures showed the First Couple walking inside the Shenzhen Golf grounds. The new witness inconspicuously took the image while he was staying in the same golf club.

The witness also had footage of former election chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr., who “Alex” said had a secret meeting with the Arroyos and the ZTE officials. (SunStar)

Lozada might leave RP if court doesn’t grant protection

May 13, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — The key witness in the Senate inquiry into the scandal-tainted national broadband network (NBN) deal is considering settling down abroad if he is not granted a protection order by the Court of Appeals.

Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., whose brother has filed a petition for a writ of amparo before the appellate court, said once the Senate wraps up its investigation into the allegations of bribery and overpricing surrounding the now-scrapped NBN deal, it would pull out the security detail provided him.

“If that happens, and I did not get any protection order from the court, I am afraid that my life will no longer be normal,” Lozada said.

Lozada and his family remain with the La Salle brothers and are escorted by Senate security personnel.

The whistleblower claims he was abducted by government security personnel on his return to the country from abroad in February. He also told the Senate of attempts to convince him to testify that the NBN contract was aboveboard.

(PDI)

Lozada: ‘Defensor asked me to tell Senate NBN deal legit’

May 13, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — Because President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was hurting from the controversy surrounding the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) contract, her former chief of staff, Michael Defensor, asked Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. to tell the Senate the deal was aboveboard.

This was the testimony given by Lozada at the hearing on Tuesday of the petition for a writ of amparo filed by his brother, Arturo, before the Court of Appeals.

The petition was filed soon after Lozada, the key witness in the Senate investigation into the alleged bribery and overpricing surrounding the now-scrapped NBN deal, was allegedly abducted by government security agents soon after he arrived in the country from abroad in February.

Lozada told the justices of the appellate court’s 17th division that Defensor contacted him to say he was the only one who could put a stop to the controversy over the NBN deal and that “Madam [Arroyo] is hurting.”

He said Defensor asked him to tell the Senate investigation that the contract was aboveboard.

Lozada claimed that lawyer Antonio Bautista, counsel of Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri, coached him about what he was supposed to tell the Senate.

“Pero hindi ko po kayang magsinungaling [But I could not bring myself to lie],” Lozada said.

Lozada, in his testimony before the Senate, backed up the claims made earlier in the probe by original whistleblower Jose de Venecia III, who linked First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. to alleged kickbacks from the NBN deal.

The next hearing of the Lozada amparo petition will be on May 20, when the witness will be cross examined by the solicitor general.

(PDI)