PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — FACING imminent ouster as Speaker of the House, Jose de Venecia burned his bridges with the Arroyo administration in a scathing privileged speech that accused its officials and allies of corruption and election fraud.
Given 10 minutes ahead of a vote to declare the position of speaker vacant, De Venecia spoke for almost an hour, during which he said he knew of attempts to tamper with the results of the 2004 presidential elections on behalf of President Arroyo.
De Venecia also slammed the Palace for controlling the release of pork barrel to congressmen, who had “to beg” for their share of the development funds from the President’s sons in Congress.
“The time has now come for us to speak out and put an end to this abuse of power and arrogance,” De Venecia said, returning to his call for a moral revolution.
In an emotional speech, De Venecia complained bitterly about the administration’s refusal to act on death threats allegedly made against him and his son Joey, who had testified before the Senate last year that the President’s husband had intervened in a government contract.
The threats, he said, came from three Armed Forces generals.
De Venecia began his speech by highlighting the President’s political debt of gratitude to him, going back to 1998 when he chose her as his vice presidential running mate.
He also pointed out that he had stood by the President throughout all the crises in her administration, including the yearly impeachment complaints filed against her and several coup attempts.
Despite this help, he said, Malacañang and the President’s husband hired a lawyer, Roel Pulido, to file graft cases against him and his son.
De Venecia also used his speech to defend his son, who lost the bid on the national broadband deal to ZTE Corp. of China, saying he had offered to carry out the project at a much lower cost.
De Venecia also singled out businessman Enrique Razon as “one of the most powerful businessmen in the country, one of the most powerful movers in Philippine society, [and] one of the partners of those in the corridors of power.”
In one instance, he said, a company associated with the Arroyo ally was allowed to buy the government-owned National Transmission Corp. despite a higher bid by mining magnate Salvador Zamora, brother of Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora.
The move to oust De Venecia came to a head yesterday, despite reports that the Palace had urged his critics to defer the vote to today.
Earlier in the day, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the administration coalition had agreed to give De Venecia 24 hours to consult his supporters and to avert a bloody fight for the speakership.
Pro- and anti-De Venecia members of the ruling Lakas-CMD held separate meetings yesterday in Quezon City.
Congressmen working to oust De Venecia met again at the Andaya Hall in Congress, where they agreed to push through with the vote.
“There is no turning back,” said Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra, who moved to declare the Speaker’s position vacant.
A long debate followed before De Venecia was able to take to the podium.
Earlier, De Venecia had threatened to join the opposition and spill the beans about election fraud if he were removed from his post.
Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said De Venecia’s refusal of a graceful exit could create a split in the ruling coaliton.
At Sunday night’s meeting in Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo’s house in La Vista, Quezon City, more than 100 congressmen were in a festive mood as they committed to support Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles as the next speaker, said Antipolo City Rep. Robbie Puno.
Nograles, who was present, told the lawmakers: “I won’t be making promises that I cannot keep.”
Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo admitted that the tipping point was De Venecia’s failure to stop his son Joey III from implicating his father in the ZTE controversy.