POSTSCRIPT / October 2, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Son's broadband bid boomerangs on JdV

CONSCIENCE?: As Tagalogs would say, “maghahalo ang balat sa tinalupan” (will somebody please suggest an English translation?) when the House of Representatives takes up the impeachment complaint against Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos.

The National Broadband Network scandal in the charges against Abalos is the same meat of a complaint filed against Speaker Jose de Venecia, the father of businessman Jose (Joey) de Venecia III who had accused Abalos of bribery in connection with the NBN project.

The Speaker said he and the other congressmen will drop partisan bias and use their “conscience” in processing the charges against Abalos. Conscience?

* * *

ETHICAL ISSUE: We already know the details of the charges against Abalos. For balance, let us now look at the complaint against De Venecia for breach of ethics.

The complaint, filed by lawyer Roberto Rafael J. Pulido with the House committee on ethics and privileges, alleged that:

* In 1993, while congressman De Venecia was Speaker, his son Joey organized the Multi-media Telephony Inc., a telecommunications firm doing business as “Broadband Philippines.” He was chairman and CEO.

* In 1995, during the incumbency of his father, Joey sought a legislative franchise for his MTI before the House.

* On Feb. 23, 1995, the House enacted RA 7908, entitled “An act granting the Multi-media Telephony Inc. a franchise to construct, establish, operate and maintain radio paging system in the Philippines, and for other purposes.”

* In June 1997, still under the incumbency of De Venecia, Congress enacted RA 8332, amending the original MTI franchise, allowing it to engage in the business of providing broadband services to the public.

* Both RA 7908 and RA 8332 impose the obligation upon MTI to submit annual reports to Congress, and Congress in turn is duty-bound to check the company’s compliance with the conditions of the franchise.

* In November 2006, Joey submitted an unsolicited proposal to set up a private broadband network for the government. It was submitted through the Amsterdam Holdings Inc., which Joey admitted he had formed and owned.

* After allowing his son to obtain a franchise and broadening its authority under his term, the Speaker publicly hailed him as “the father of broadband in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.”

* * *

NO ACTION: Pulido accused De Venecia of (1) failing to stop a criminal act and (2) failing to discourage the wrong perceptions of his role as dispenser or peddler of undue patronage.

The complainant cited RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act):“Section 5. Prohibition on certain relatives. – It shall be unlawful for the spouse or for any relative, by consanguinity or affinity, within the third civil degree, of the President of the Philippines, the Vice President of the Philippines, the President of the Senate, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to intervene, directly or indirectly, in any business, transaction, contract or application, with the Government; Provided, That this section shall not apply to any person who, prior to the assumption of office of any of the above officials to whom he is related, has been already dealing with the Government along the same line of business, nor to any transaction, contract or application filed by him the approval of which is not discretionary on the part of the official or officials concerned but depends upon compliance with requisites provided by law, or rules or regulations issued pursuant to law, nor to any act lawfully performed in an official capacity or in the exercise of a profession.”

He said Joey violated RA 3019 many times — when MTI applied for a franchise and sought an amendment, submitted reports to Congress to show compliance with its franchise, and then submitted an unsolicited proposal on behalf of AHI.

Pulido said De Venecia knew of the violations, but did nothing to stop them.

In an affidavit submitted to the Senate last Sept. 18, Joey even attested under oath that:

“The Speaker invited Chairman Abalos and myself to breakfast at the Speaker’s home. Given the request of the Speaker, I agreed to meet him. At the breakfast, Chairman Abalos expressed his desire to cooperate with AHI in building the NBN network. His proposal was to cover the lower class municipalities (4th, 5th and 6th class) and augment the Orion Network of AHI.”

* * *

DRAFT LETTER: In the Senate hearing on the NBN project last Sept. 25, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile read into the records a letter supposedly signed by an AHI official mentioning the Speaker.

The letter, dated Dec. 4, 2006, was signed by an Ernesto Garcia, identified as AHI managing director, and addressed to Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

Garcia wrote that he was instructed by the “Speaker’s Office” to forward to Mendoza a draft letter for the secretary to sign endorsing the AHI proposal to undertake the NBN project.

“The Speaker’s Office had instructed me to forward the attached material to your office, ASAP,” Garcia said in the letter.

The “attached material” was a draft letter intended to be signed by Mendoza and addressed to Romulo Neri, then director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, endorsing AHI’s proposal.

* * *

DE VENECIA HAND: Replying to Enrile’s questions, Neri practically admitted that the Speaker and his son Joey, the biggest AHI stockholder, were behind the AHI bid.

Enrile asked why the De Venecia’s would refer the AHI proposal to NEDA, when the NBN was not a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) project.

Neri replied: “They do not probably know the procedures.”

“In other words, the ZTE (NBN) project of Amsterdam Holdings was none other than the project of Speaker de Venecia like the Northrail Project,” Enrile said.

He mentioned Neri’s closeness to the De Venecia’s, having served in the House economic staff under the Speaker before he joined the NEDA.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 2, 2007)

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