PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE– “SEC(RETARY), may 200 ka dito.”
This was how Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. reportedly tried to bribe former National Economic Development Authority director-general Romulo Neri to secure NEDA’s approval of the bid of China’s ZTE Corp. to enforce the national broadband network project.
Neri, now Commission on Higher Education chairman, said Abalos made the “indecent” offer during a golf game at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club early this year.
“We had a nice golf game. The Chairman was very charming but there was something that he said that surprised me. He said,’Sec, may 200 ka dito.’ I believe we were in a golf car. He was driving, I was seated beside him medyo nabigla ako but since he was our host, I chose to ignore it,” Neri said during the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the controversial $329 broadband deal.
Shocked, Neri said he did not respond to Abalos’ bribery attempt. Asked by Sen.Panfilo Lacson why he reacted that way, Neri said: ”Medyo malaki. I guess given the magnitude of the project, hindi lang iyon (nangangahulugan) P200,000.”
Neri said he referred the incident to his counsel who advised him to report the matter to President Macapagal-Arroyo. Asked what was the President’s response, Neri said:”She told me not to accept it.”
Abalos denied Neri’s allegations and said the CHED chairman lied under oath.
”Hindi ko maintindihan yung 200 na sinasabi niya, whether P200 million, P200,000 or (merely) P200. How can I comment on something which is not clear?” the Comelec chief said.
Neri invoked executive privilege when asked by Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan if he and Mrs. Arroyo discussed the NBN project after Abalos allegedly tried to bribe him.
It was the first time that Abalos faced businessman Jose de Venecia III who accused him of offering a $10 million bribe to back out of the broadband project.
Abalos said both Neri and De Venecia were lying. He turned the tables on the young De Venecia, saying it was the Speaker’s son who pursued him about the project.
“As I have said, it was him (JdV III) who is pursuing me because he wants me to bridge him with that of ZTE. Gusto niya sumawsaw sa kontrata. I have no reason to (bribe him),” he said.
In a prepared statement, Abalos said it is regrettable how De Venecia III, who had sought his help “could turn the table and throw falsehoods, half truths, and innuendos, making it appear I am personally involved in the NBN project.”
He claimed that De Venecia III launched and relentlessly pursued “a well-founded and professionally- managed personal attack against me such as of allegedly intensely lobbying for Chinese Corp., the ZTE. “
Addressing JdVIII, who was about four feet away from him, Abalos said: ”Let’s be honest to ourselves, Mr. JDV. This is a tight loan or concessional loan. In concessional loans, tanggapin na natin na it is the lending country that designates the contractor. How can I lobby for a tight loan when it is the lending country that designates the contractor?”
Abalos said he believes that the ZTE scandal is intended to humiliate and discredit him and other officials to force the government to cancel the deal with ZTE and award it to other interested parties.