National Broadband Network Controversy

Claiming that Jose “Joey” de Venecia III is heroic is like saying Luis “Chavit” Singson did not participate at one time in a scheme to deprive Ilocos Sur people of part of the millions of pesos due them in tobacco excise tax. I listen to de Venecia talk and his ways remind me of a certain “whistleblower” in Cebu who is also a businessman.

It’s not that I like better Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, whom de Venecia linked to the bribery controversy hounding government’s national broadband network contract with the Chinese firm Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment (ZTE) Corp. It’s just that I have this thing against noisy losing bidders.

What I am saying is that, however you describe Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, I agree with her ranting during the Senate hearing on the national broadband network deal. I am not referring to her claim that China invented corruption—the Philippines probably didn’t but some Filipino government officials are/were among the world’s most corrupt.

“You are just fighting over your kickbacks,” Santiago fumed. Indeed, this whole episode is all about a project that runs in billions of pesos and lobby money in millions of pesos allegedly thrown into the lap of powerful people by interested firms and persons so they can snag the contract. And it’s also about wheeling and dealing of people at the top.

What Santiago said is the reason why it is easy for the accused to turn the tables on the accuser. De Venecia is at an advantage because he was the one who first accused Abalos of bribery in favor of ZTE. But Abalos counter-accusation is not unbelievable because it is also possible de Venecia, being a lobbyist, may have done the same thing.

Which reminds me of my experience as a greenhorn reporter. That was a few years after the “Ceboom” hype when the province was marketed to potential investors as an “island in the Pacific.” I was an awe then of government officials who aggressively enticed foreigners to invest in Cebu—until I heard the stories lurking behind the effort.

Behind every government project—big or small—are commissions, and people “toiling hard” to earn them. What differentiates a small project from the big one is the amount of money landing in the pockets of “commissioners.” A few thousands here, millions, even billions there, like probably in the national broadband network contract.

So while I share Santiago’s ranting, I do not think the Senate hearing on the issue is totally useless. I even ask ordinary citizens to spend time watching the proceedings not for any other reason but to learn. The hearing could be in “aid of reelection” and nothing but fury signifying nothing. But it’s educational as a subject. Just call it Corruption 101.

One more thing. This only shows that despite a powerful opposition against the Arroyo administration, its minions are still playing the game of brinkmanship. After the “Hello Garci” controversy and the agriculture fund mess, you’d think those at the top would become more circumspect. But ants are ants. They prey on sugar despite the risks.

I said before that the Arroyo administration may just have been plain lucky when it survived the most telling offensives of the political opposition and destabilizers. But luck will eventually run out. It would be interesting to find out then how Malacañang will parry the recent blows against it and whether it can still find some luck in the process.

I wrote this for my September 28, 2007 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu 

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