SC throws out suit vs ZTE

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Supreme Court yesterday junked the petitions questioning the validity of the scandal-laden National Broadband Network project awarded to the Chinese conglomerate ZTE Corporation for being moot and academic.

In an 18-page resolution, the High Tribunal dismissed the three petitions filed by Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico, Amsterdam Holdings and LATIGO, saying President Macapagal-Arroyo already rescinded the contract.

“The Court is constrained to dismiss the petitions and deny them due course because of mootness and because their resolution requires reception of evidence which cannot be done in an original petition brought before the Supreme Court,” the tribunal said.

“It would be too presumptuous on the part of the Court to summarily compel public respondents to comply with the pertinent provisions of law regarding procurement of government infrastructure projects without any factual basis,” it added. “For the Court to do so would amount to a breach of the norms of comity among co-equal branches of government.”

However, Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio insisted that the ZTE deal is void and could be repeated.

In his dissenting opinion, Carpio claimed the contract is “void from the beginning for being contrary to the Constitution, the Administrative Code of 1987, the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines and the Government Procurement Reform Act.”

He said the government’s decision not to continue with the ZTE project “during the pendency of this case, even if deemed a cancellation of the ZTE supply contract, had no legal effect on the status of the contract, and did not moot the petition since not only are the legal issues in the case capable of repetition yet evading review the ZTE supply contract is itself capable of being resurrected.”

“It is time to put an end to government procurement contracts amounting to tens of billions of pesos, exceeding even the annual budget of the judiciary, that are awarded and signed without an appropriation from Congress, and without the required public bidding.This court must categorically declare the ZTE Supply Contract void from the beginning,” he stressed.

Carpio pointed out that the ZTE contract is not funded by an appropriations law and does not have a certificate of appropriation and fund availability. Even if the funding for the ZTE supply contract will come from a foreign loan, it does not negate the rationale for public bidding since “Filipino taxpayers will still pay for the loan with interest.”

He also underscored the need to safeguard public interest against anomalies in all government procurement contracts, regardless of the source of funding.

“Public bidding promotes transparency and honesty in the expenditure of public funds,” he said.