On April 21, 2007, the government signed the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
The project, which called for the installation of a telecommunications network linking government offices throughout the country, was signed in China by then Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and ZTE vice president Yu Yong. It was witnessed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
ZTE initially offered $130 million for the project.
On Sept. 18, 2007, Jose de Venecia III, cofounder of Amsterdam Holdings Inc., which was bypassed in the project’s bidding, testified in the Senate blue ribbon committee that Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of the President, had intervened to get the ZTE deal approved, a charge the latter denied.
De Venecia also described in a forum that then Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos appeared to be the “captain” of those who were brokering the ZTE deal. De Venecia said Abalos offered him $10 million in December 2006 to back off from the project.
On Sept. 26, 2007, Romulo Neri, who was then director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, told the Senate that during a game of golf, Abalos offered him P200 million in exchange for endorsing the contract. Neri said he mentioned the bribe offer to Arroyo, who told him not to accept it.
In November 2007, two impeachment complaints were filed against Arroyo over the NBN-ZTE project. Administration allies in the House of Representatives scuttled the complaints.
On Feb. 8, 2008, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr., Neri’s consultant in the NBN project, testified before the joint Senate committees on blue ribbon, trade and defense, that Abalos stood to gain a huge commission from the deal.
He also tagged Arroyo and her husband as the “masterminds behind the NBN-ZTE crime.”
The Senate investigation led to the resignation of Abalos from the Comelec and ultimately, the scrapping of the project.
In August 2009, the Office of the Ombudsman dropped graft charges against the then President, saying she was immune from suit and could not be criminally charged. Then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez also dropped charges against her husband, saying there was no evidence against him.
Gutierrez stepped down in May this year just before her impeachment trial was to start in the Senate. Inquirer Research
Source: Inquirer Archives