PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE –PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has decided to push through with the $460-million Cyber Education project with China, a massive infrastructure contract that was earlier suspended following allegations of irregularity on another Beijing-funded deal.
Mrs. Arroyo said she was tapping the Presidential Task Force on Education to ensure that the CyberEd program would not suffer the fate of the less expensive but controversial $329-million national broadband project.
The President issued her directive after ordering the China Projects Oversight Panel headed by Trade Secretary Peter Favila to protect the project from “unnecessary controversy.”
“Our infrastructure projects and investments must not be derailed because of political noise,” she said in her opening statement during yesterday’s joint meeting of the National Security Council and the National Economic and Development Authority at the Palace.
Mrs. Arroyo made it clear she was undaunted by threats from several opposition lawmakers that they would file a case before the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the project if the administration pushed through with it.
“We must make sure that there will be no stumbling blocks that can hinder the very important Cyber Education project that will benefit millions of our students nationwide,” Mrs. Arroyo said.
The education task force is headed by priest Bienvenido Nebres, president of the Ateneo de Manila University. Four others from the private sector—Angeles University Foundation president Emmanuel Angeles, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Donald Dy, Asian Institute of Management professor Victor Limlingan, and former University of the Philippines president Jose Abueva—are part of the group.
The five, along with Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority director general Augusto Syjuco complete the task force.
“The China Projects Oversight Panel should now begin working out procedures to protect the Cyber Education project from unnecessary controversy, so that world-class information communication technology would reach fourth to sixth class municipalities and the least endowed schools,” Mrs. Arroyo said.
The CyberEd project, also a tieup with the Chinese government, was earlier suspended by the President following allegations of irregularities on the broadband contract with China’s ZTE Corp.
Last week, Mrs. Arroyo said Chinese officials remained committed to the “confident, mature and comprehensive relations” of the two countries despite what happened to the broadband deal.
“We have asked for China’s understanding on our decision not to continue the NBN project and they gave their understanding,” she said.
“We are disappointed that with the broadband not being continued, telecom savings of P3 billion a year from broadband may not be forthcoming,” the President added.
Mrs. Arroyo also ordered Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to discuss with private firms the government’s efforts to bring down its telecommunication costs.