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NBN Deal: A Sign of Philippine’s Institutionalized Corruption

September 16, 2007

We have heard a great deal about the National Broadband Network (NBN) issue that continuously implicates high-ranking government officials close to the President. And the issue does not stop at nothing, and perhaps sooner of later the bucket will reach the doorstep of the President.

The NBN controversy is just one of the many issues that endlessly hounds President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

This controversial project, according to the government, prized at $329 million that went to China’s ZTE Corp., is essential to the pursuit of the Arroyo administration of making the Philippines at par with neighboring countries in terms of Information Technology (IT) and cyber-education.

It was Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Leandro Mendoza, recently honored with a parade by PMA cadets on Sept. 16, who signed the NBN contract with President Arroyo as witness in China last year.

The presence of Arroyo somehow confirms, or implies, that the government, or the Arroyo administration to be precise, is very much involved in the issue, which also linked Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos and other ”mysterious” government officials.

Everyday the list of people who are either involved or have knowledge of the contract and how it materialized, is being exposed to the public, and this situation does not look pleasant to some high-ranking government officials, most especially to the President, who left her husband’s sick bed to fly all the way to Boao, China to witness the conception of the controversial contract.

Mike Arroyo, the President’s husband, was also implicated as the “mystery man” behind talks in the NBN project now under Senate inquiry.

As the controversy takes its natural course, the public is being informed how the contract was negotiated by ZTE Corp. and the Philippines, about the big personalities who worked on and benefited by it, including the losing parties who claim it was attended by irregularities, bribery, and corruption.

The NBN has reared its ugly head, and it looks like what the public know is just the tip of an iceberg.

But behind this political-corporate ruckus, the NBN issue points to that one woman in the Malacañang Palace as the one who caused the deal. It may be recalled that Arroyo mentioned in her State of the Nation Addres (SONA) in 2006 the her desire to establish cyber corridors in the country in pursuant to her super-region bold vision.

“The Cyber Corridor will boost telecommunications, technology and education,” said Arroyo in her 2006 Sona. She reiterated the need to enhance her cyber corridor project in her 2007 Sona, saying her government has “to spread development away from an inequitable concentration in Metro Manila.”

For this reason, she has mandated the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) to “develop the country as a world-class ICT services provider, provide government services to stakeholders online, provide affordable Internet access to all segments of the population, develop an ICT enabled workforce, and create an enabling legal and regulatory environment.”

The CITC is guided by the following seven principles: 1) The Philippines is committed to realizing the goal of people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society that promotes sustainable development all.; 2) Government’s primary role in ICT development is to provide an enabling policy, legal and regulatory environment that levels the playing field and allows the private sector to lead.; 3) ICT is a tool for human and sustainable development; 4) The development of an Information Society requires a multi-stakeholder approach; 5) A Philippine Information Society requires the availability, accessibility and development of digital content that is relevant and meaningful to Filipinos; 6) A safe and trustworthy online environment for all is a critical component of the Philippine Information Society; and 7) The undeniable role of ICT as a major driver of the economy requires the creation and/or strengthening of government’s institutional arrangements for the facilitation of ICT development, and ICT for development in the country.

The NBN controversy is just one of the ugly issues that taint the Arroyo government’s questionable leadership, and shows its unjustified and unreasonable interference in the corporate world.

One of the major blows that confirms the idiocy and greediness of some people in the Arroyo administration is the study conducted by two professors at the University of the Philippines’ School of Economic. The reports says there is no need for the $800 million plan to build two government-owned IT backbones to found a cyber corridor in the country.

Aside from the $329 NBN, the government is also set to create a $460-million satellite-based IT backbone for the Cyber Education Program.

The UP professors assert in their study that the bold plan lacks backbone in that the government has no capacity and manpower to manage the project.

They said that the country’s private sector has provided not one but two backbones (broadband services and CEP): the “PLDT’s looptype fiber optic backbone, which anchors the signal coverage of the entire country, and the Telecphil fishbone-type fiber optic backbone, which is owned and employed by a consortium of telcos.”

“Government has, indeed, more often than not, worsened rather than improved matters by precipitate intervention,” says the study.

But whether or not this country needs such services or IT backbones, the big question here is that whether the Arroyo government is party to a contract infirmed by bribery, irregularities and illegal considerations.

Jose “Joey” De Venecia III, son of House Speaker Jose De Venecia who is very close to the President, has mentioned big personalities in the government who might benefited by the multi-million dollar NBN contract.

The cast of “evil” characters include Comelec Chairman Benjamon Abalos and former Socio-economic Planning and now CHEd Secretary Romulo Neri.

De Venecia III, co-founder of the losing proponent Amsterdam Holdings Inc., revealed in a sworn statement that Abalos had attempted to bribe him with $10 million to back out of the NBN contract. Aside from that, Abalos allegedly used his connection in the government to threaten the son of the House Speaker to withdraw from the contract.

“Joey, this is my last hurrah. I have nothing to do after I retire. I really want this contract. I’m willing to give you $10 million,” the young De Venecia quoted Abalos, who is due to retire on February, as saying.

It seems that Abalos is not yet content with the (dis)services he rendered to his boss.

De Venecia also said that Abalos boasted of his being the chair of the Comelec, a position that makes him the “most powerful man” in the country.

Reports said that Abalos met with ZTE officials in the country and even played golf with them at the posh Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City.

The name of Neri, who was given the temporary position as chairman of the CHEd, was also implicated in the multi-million dollar controversy.

The grand addition of Mike Arroyo’s name to the cast of characters of the disputed deal even made the issue more contentious, since the President’s husband whom the court considered as a public figure had always been involved in a number of hot issues that rocked the Arroyo administration in the past like the Jueteng scandal that also linked his son Mikey and brother Iggy Arroyo, and the Hello Garci controversy.

De Venecia III also disclosed that like Abalos, the First Gentleman also told him in a meeting at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club to “back off” from the contract.

Mike Arroyo left the country on the eve of the Senate inquiry  which made Sen. Aquilino Pimentel suspect that FG’s “flight is a sign of guilt”.

The worst part of the contract is the utterly immoral, illegal, unconscionable, and unethical acts of those in power, particularly the President, who should be representing the country in all of its economic endeavors with other countries, and Abalos, who should only focus on his job as the head of the Comelec.

This only shows that most of our high-ranking government officials to whom we entrusted our votes (whether they won fair or square or not) are completely devoid of moral and ethical values.

It should be known that the worst kind of politician of all is the one who lusts for power and who uses such power entrusted by the people for personal enrichment and political advantage.

It’s just unfortunate that we have a lot of their lik in this woeful land.

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