Opposition ‘pays witness’ to appear atZTE investigation

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE –A LAKAS congressman yesterday said an opposition politician has paid a “bogus witness” P5 million to testify that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the government’s contract with ZTE Corp. of China padded.

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella said the paid witness, with the initials “D.M.,” would testify before the Senate when it resumed its inquiry on the $329-million national broadband network deal that the Palace had ordered scrubbed.

Puentevella said reliable sources told him the witness would allege that Mrs. Arroyo ordered the contract jacked up from $262 million to $329 million, and implicate Mrs. Arroyo in the same way that Jose de Venecia III sought to link her husband.

“This is a grand conspiracy whose progeny can be easily traced by just looking at those pulling this guy’s strings. One’s a member of the midnight cabinet, while another is a vital cog in the office of one very outspoken Metro Manila mayor,” Puentevella said.

In reality, he said, the project cost rose to reflect the wider broadband coverage that the government required.

Puentevella said the witness, “a lowly employee of ZTE,” would be hardpressed to show he had personal knowledge of the President’s order.

Opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson confirmed that a former consultant of ZTE had been approaching opposition leaders and peddling information on the deal in exchange for money.

Lacson, speaking at the Quijano de Manila forum in Malate, Manila, said he did not bite.

“For a volunteer witness to be asking money from whoever, it looks like he cannot present any credible testimony,” he said.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, said he had not been approached by the witness. He also denied reports that he had been offered $1 million to go easy on the ZTE investigation.

Puentevella did not name the opposition politician or the witness.

He described the opposition member as someone who was known for producing witnesses during congressional hearings.

On several occasions, he said, the opposition lawmaker had earned the ire of his colleagues in the House by trying to lead the witnesses he produced.

Puentevella said the witness was a “colorful character who had several brushes with the law” and was a former official of the Telepono sa Barangay project during the time of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

He said the witness and his other handler, a member of the so-called Erap midnight cabinet, were investigated by the Senate in 2001 for allegedly masterminding the Philippine Communications Clearinghouse Inc. scam.

Before that, the witness was fired from the Department of Transportation and Communications for signing documents that were not under his responsibility.

Later, he was fired from ZTE for allegedly leaking technical details of the ZTE proposal to Amsterdam Holdings Inc., a company owned by the son of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

“Those behind this bogus witness used the lull in the Senate hearing to figure out how to sell his implausible story against the President,” Puentevella said.

Malacañang said it would ask the Supreme Court to stop the Senate from investigating the canceled ZTE deal.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said this meant no Cabinet member subpoenaed by the Senate would appear before the hearings.

But he declined to comment on the surprise witness.