Abalos resigns

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — COMMISSION on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos yesterday did what he said he would never do.

The man caught in the center of the controversy over the allegedly graft-tainted national broadband network contract the Chinese firm ZTE Corp. clinched reportedly through the efforts of the poll body chief, announced his resignation in a press conference at his residence in Mandaluyong City.

With his wife Cora and son Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos by his side, the embattled Abalos told a crowd of supporters and the nation he opted to resign amid allegations that he had brokered the questioned broadband deal so that the Comelec will no longer be dragged into the controversy.

He vowed to pursue the fight to clear his name. He planned to sue his accusers, especially Commission on Higher Education head Romulo Neri who had charged him with offering the former National Economic Development Authority director general a bribe of P200 million in exchange for his endorsement of the broadband project.

Abalos, who earlier emphatically said he would not resign as he vehemently protested his innocence, took everyone including his associates by surprise with his sudden about face.

The Comelec chairman is due to retire on Feb. 2, 2008.

“I didn’t know about it, until the press asked about his press conference,” Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento said that with Abalos’ resignation, Commissioner Ressurreccion Borra takes over as acting chairman of the poll body, being the most senior of five remaining commissioners.

Abalos said in his prepared statement that it had been almost a week since he appeared befort the Senate committees investigating the NBN project which he did against the advice of his lawyers and close friends.

“Driven by what I expected would be inherent fairness of a Senate inquiry and the statesmanship of our Senators, I did so against the advice of my counsel and closest of friends,” Abalos said.

He said he was sorely mistaken and was not treated fairly as his declarations were limited to only those that his interrogators wanted to hear.

“In these few days of reflection and consultation I’ve had with my family and closest friends, I have come to the painful determination that the time has come to separate my person from the office I now occupy, and the institution I head. I am resigning the chairmanship of the Comelec effective immediately,” the beleaguered Abalos said.

The chairman said he wanted to spare the Comelec from the vicious and maliciously concocted attacks on his person. “On the 29th of this month we will have another election. It is my intention that with my resignation today I shall have detached the Comelec from the controversy in which my person is currently embroiled.”

Mrs. Abalos said her husband’s resignation was a family decision because their family had been affected by the controversy. The family arrived at the painful decision so as not to further hurt all its members.

The Comelec chairman said his resignation should dispel the claims of his detractors that he is banking on political debts dispensed to candidates during elections to fend off moves to oust him from office.

He likewise said his resignation negates the accusation that the Arroyo administration is out to protect him and his position at the Comelec.

But the fight is not over, he warned. He is planning to sue not only Neri but also businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia for allegedly lying under oath at the Senate hearings.

The younger De Venecia claimed he was offered $10 million by Abalos just to back off the bidding of the NBN project.

Abalos’ lawyer Gabriel Villareal said a damage suit will be filed against Neri while perjury charges will be lodged against De Venecia. The charges will be filed as soon as Abalos turns over his post to his successor.