PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — “BACK off.”
With these angry words, First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo allegedly tried to intimidate Jose “Joey” de Venecia III to back out from participating in the allegedly anomalous national broadband network project of the government.
It turned out that Mr. Arroyo was the “mystery man” who De Venecia III, co-founder of Amsterdam Holdings Inc., earlier said allegedly coerced him into withdrawing his $24- million bid for the NBN project of the Department of Transportation and Communications.
“I had previously promised to reveal the identity of the ‘mystery man’ under oath and in the proper forum. It is with a heavy heart that I cannot deny that it was First Gentleman Mike Arroyo at the reconciliatory meeting,” De Venecia III said in his opening statement at yesterday’s first public hearing on the controversial $330-million NBN-ZTE contract.
“I do, however, want to make it clear that it was his presence alone that I observed and I have no other indication of his participation in the NBN project or the deal with ZTE,” he added.
He said that his encounter with Mr. Arroyo took place middle of last March at the Wack Wack Golf Club in Mandaluyong City during a “reconciliation” meeting between him and Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos arranged by Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza.
De Venecia III said that Mr.Arroyo had shouted “back off” at him when he was asking Mendoza about the progress of AHI’s bid to the NBN project.
But, the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., dismissed insinuations from opposition senators that President Macapagal-Arroyo is aware of her husband’s involvement in the NBN-ZTE deal.
Asked whether he believes that the President knows about the alleged kickbacks being sought by Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, and her husband, De Venecia III said: “I cannot speculate whether she knows about the kickbacks.”
Aside from Mr.Arroyo and Abalos, present during the breakfast meeting were Ruben Reyes, Jimmy Paz, Leo San Miguel, and a certain retired Gen.Quirino Dula Torre. After yesterday’s hearing, De Venecia apologized to retired Gen.Edgar Dula Torre whom he mistakenly identified as among those who were present at the reconciliatory meeting.
After offering a bid of $330 million, China’s Zhong Xing Telecommunications (ZTE), upon the alleged “intense” lobbying of Abalos, finally got DoTC’s nod to implement the NBN contract.
Of the nine invited resource persons to the NBN-ZTE hearing, only four came: De Venecia III, Iloilo Vice Gov.Rolex Suplico, former chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology Ramon Sales, and newspaper columnist Jarius Bondoc.
Invoking Executive Order 464 preventing government officials from attending any congressional inquiry without presidential permission, the following Cabinet officials were a no-show: Mendoza, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, DoTC Asst. Secretary Lorenzo Formoso III, and Commission on Higher Edication chairman Romulo Neri.
De Venecia III indicated Abalos was angry at him for refusing to withdraw his bid for the NBN contract. Likewise, the Comelec chief resented De Venecia III’s telling his AHI personnel and foreign partners that Abalos “wanted a $130-million dollar kickback from the project.” According to De Venecia III, Abalos had told him he had “wiretapped” him.
In a nine-page sworn affidavit, De Venecia III said that Abalos had tried to bribe him with $10 million so he would drop his bid for the NBN deal.
“He offered me $10 million in exchange for AHI’s backing off and withdrawing completely from the NBN project, saying that I should let him be, as the project would be, in his words, his last hurrah,” De Venecia III said. He said he refused the bribe offer.