PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — COMMISSION on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos already received an undisclosed amount of money in American dollars from the principals of Chinese firm, ZTE, which bagged the government’s national broadband network project.
This was among the explosive statements made by businessman Jose de Venecia III, as the Senate, under the Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, opened yesterday its inquiry into the controversy.
De Venecia, son of House Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr., said Abalos earlier this year managed to convince him to visit China for a talk with ZTE officials to discuss the NBN.
The project was originally an unsolicited proposal to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) by the younger de Venecia’s company, Amsterdam Holdings, Inc.
De Venecia III said it was during that meeting in China where he saw and heard Abalos openly demanding money from the ZTE officials and even dropped the name of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the name of his father, the Speaker of the House.
The ZTE officials, however, were adamant in refusing money to Abalos until the loan agreement for the project was formally signed.
“Mr. Chairman, what about the money we advanced to you?” a lady ZTE secretary, a certain Fan Yang, allegedly asked the poll chairman. The question, purportedly calmed Abalos down.
Reading from a prepared statement, the son of the House Speaker also claimed that the contract with ZTE, as presently constituted, is already overpriced by “one hundred percent.”
He noted that of the final agreed amount of $329 million project amount signed by the DOTC and ZTE last April, this has ballooned by some $67 million.
Observers say this is the total amount of “initial” graft that officials are to divide among themselves once the project pushes through.
De Venecia further said the first amount shown to him by Abalos when they first discussed the project last December 16, is only for $262 million, an amount which the businessman noted is already padded by one hundred percent.
Worse, the project would only cover thirty five percent of the country and not the entire archipelago as the proponents would want the public to believe.
De Venecia claimed that it was also during the December 16 meeting with Abalos at the Wack Wack Golf Club, a known watering hole of Abalos, where the latter tried to bribe him with $10 million.
It was earlier confirmed that ZTE officials and Abalos were ‘golfing partners’ and that the company paid for the trips of the poll chairman to mainland China.
De Venecia also narrated that after his relationship with Abalos broke down, DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza brokered a “reconciliatory” meeting between them at the Wack Wack Golf Club last March 15 which was also attended by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Sitting beside Mr. Arroyo, the younger De Venecia said the former pointed a finger “two inches” away from his face and barked at him to “back off” (from the NBN project).
Mr. Arroyo on Monday hastily left for Hong Kong, claiming it was for “personal business.”
Despite the personalities involved in the NBN deal, De Venecia, however, expressed his belief that Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has “no knowledge” of the bribes involved in the transaction, several times referring to the Chief Executive as “my president.”
De Venecia maintained this position despite efforts by opposition lawmakers to link the Chief Executive directly to the anomaly.
He also averred that AHI is no longer interested in the project but they have filed a motion before the Supreme Court to compel the DOTC to reveal the details of the contract to the public.