Opposition solon links Abalos to $329M broadband deal

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Opposition Rep. Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya yesterday implicated Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos in the alleged anomalous award of the $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal to the Chinese firm ZTE Corp., hinting that the latter could have brokered the deal.

In a privilege speech, Padilla questioned why Abalos’ unofficial travels to China last March, including his hotel accommodations, were sponsored by ZTE.

“It was then unclear why Chairman Abalos was traveling to China, why he was doing so unofficially and why ZTE Corp. was apparently sponsoring his trips,” he said.

Padilla said that on several occasions early this year, Abalos “was also seen playing golf with officials of ZTE Corp. in Shenzen, China.”

“Obviously, this was more than a mere coincidence,’” he said. He said Abalos’ trips to China and playing golf with ZTE officials “can hardly be characterized as just friendly and totally innocuous.”

“He was a man on a mission. Could the mission be the $329 million NBN project?” Padilla asked.

Abalos, in a phone interview, denied he brokered the deal.

Abalos said much as he wanted to, he cannot file charges because Padilla made the “false accusations” in a privilege speech.

“It would have been fairer on my part had it not been a privilege speech,” he said.

Padilla called on Congress to investigate the telecom deal, saying that “some people are about to get rich again at the expense of the Filipino people.”

“This cannot be countenanced. Otherwise, government will have again committed the Filipino people to 20 years of unnecessary debt payments for another white elephant,” he said.

Padilla on Tuesday filed criminal complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Undersecretary Lorenzo Formoso and Assistant Secretary Elmer Soneja for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Telecommunications Policy Act, the Build-Operate- Transfer Act and the Government Procurement Act.

He said executives of ZTE Corp. including its chairman Hou Weigi, vice president Yu Yong, chief Manila representative George Zhu Ying, and executive director Fan Yang should also be indicted for conspiring with DOTC officials in binding the Philippine government to what he said was an onerous deal.

Mendoza said only the court can stop them from implementing the NBN project.

“The issues on NBN were raised through PR and grandstanding, when the proper venue is the court,” he said at the sidelines of the blessing of the Maritime Industry Authority’s office.

Mendoza said he is hoping to start implementing the telecom project next month, as agreed upon by the parties.

Mendoza said they are awaiting the opinion of the Department of Finance for the loan negotiations.

The NBN project was priced at $330 million payable in 25 years, with a grace period of five years.

The contract of the NBN project seeks to establish seamless connectivity of landline, cellular, and Internet services among all national government agencies or offices.

Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said Malacañang would again invoke Executive Order No. 464 if the House of Representatives conducts an inquiry on the broadband project.