IN WAKE OF LOZADA EXPOSÉS: PROTESTS EXPECTED TO LEAD TO LEADERSHIP CHANGE
For Joey de Venecia, the series of anti-government rallies by various groups following Jun Lozada’s testimonies on the NBN deal and other corruption cases can and should lead to Arroyo’s ouster.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Vol. VIII, No. 3, February 17-23, 2008
For businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, son of ousted House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., the series of anti-government rallies that has been started by various groups in the wake of Engr. Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada’s testimonies on the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal and other corruption cases can and should lead to the ouster of the Arroyo regime -- at the soonest possible.
He shared to reporters, who interviewed him after he spoke at the Feb. 15 rally organized by various groups at Ayala Avenue in Makati City, that attending anti-government rallies was not very new to him. “I was here in 1983, during the rallies for the late Ninoy Aquino,” he shared, referring to the series of broad anti-Marcos rallies that was sparked by the assassination of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, whom many considered an opposition stalwart during the Marcos years.
“We waited for three years (to oust the Marcos dictatorship),” he added. “I hope we wouldn’t have to wait that long.”
Atty. Adel Tamano, spokesman of the United Opposition (UNO) which along with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the Concerned Citizens Group, the Black & White Movement, and Laban ng Masa (The Masses’ Fight) was among the initiators of the Feb. 15 rally, was not as pointed about where he expected the new series of anti-Arroyo protests to lead. “It’s up to the people,” he said in a brief interview with Bulatlat.
But when asked what he thought of the possibility that it would lead to leadership change, he said it would be well as long as the change is not unlawful or violent.
“It must be a constitutional and peaceful leadership change, he said. “Otherwise, we will not support it.”
Flashback: NBN deal
The younger De Venecia heads one of the companies that lost the bidding for the allegedly rigged and overpriced NBN deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corp.
The NBN project is a $329-million contract that aims to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet.
The deal was signed in Boao, China on April 21, 2007 -- when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the then-upcoming senatorial and local elections. It has become controversial for allegedly being overpriced and for supposedly having been signed without going through the proper bidding process. It was also deemed disadvantageous to the country because it was to be financed through a loan from China when, in fact, it could have been done at no cost to the government through a “Build-Operate-Transfer” scheme.
The younger De Venecia, co-founder of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. which is one of the losing bidders in the NBN deal, accused former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos of offering him $10 million in exchange for backing out of the NBN deal - an accusation the former Comelec chief has denied.
In a privileged speech on Aug. 29, 2007, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said it was Abalos who brokered the deal between the Philippine government and ZTE Corp. Padilla also said Abalos was seen playing golf with ZTE officials in Manila and Shenzen. He also accused Abalos of receiving money and women in exchange for brokering the NBN deal.
As controversy built up over the NBN deal, reports also went rife that Abalos had bribed or tried to bribe a number of government officials -- including Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman and former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general Romulo Neri -- in exchange for approving or supporting the approval of the project.
Neri, in a Senate investigation, confirmed that Abalos had offered him P200 million ($4.33 million at last year’s average exchange rate of $1:P46.15) -- a revelation that provoked public indignation leading the latter to resign from his Comelec post.
Enter Lozada, a telecommunications engineer and former president of the Philippine Forest Corporation, who served as Neri’s technical consultant for the NBN deal. He not only confirmed that the NBN contract was overpriced by $130 billion: he also confirmed Abalos’ involvement as a supposed broker in the deal, as well as the bribe attempt on Neri. He went a step further and disclosed that Abalos was frequently calling up presidential spouse Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo in the course of the bidding and deliberations on the NBN project.
Besides these, Lozada said, it was standard practice to overprice government projects by 20 percent. The overprice on the NBN deal is so far the biggest under the Arroyo administration, whose list of overpriced projects includes the Call Centers in State Universities project (P575 million, or $12.46 million based on last year’s average exchange rate, in “unaccounted” funds), the President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue project (overpriced by P536 million or $10.51 million at the 2001 average exchange rate of $1:P50.99), the Cyber Education project, the IMPSA deal, and the Comelec counting machines.
Lozada’s testimonies came in the same week that the elder De Venecia was ousted from the House Speakership and replaced by staunch Malacañang ally Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles. The elder De Venecia is said to have earned Malacañang’s ire for failing to stop his son from testifying on the NBN scam.
Calls for resignation, removal
Lozada’s exposés on corruption has revived calls for the resignation or removal of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has reaped condemnation for the spate of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, electoral fraud, and large-scale corruption under her watch. The rally last Feb. 15 in Makati City -- which yielded an estimated turnout of 15,000-20,000 - is the first in what is intended to be a new series of protests launched as a response to corruption under the Arroyo regime.
Lozada and the younger De Venecia have the support of Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), who has called for “communal action” for truth. Said Lagdameo in a Feb. 10 statement:
“Truth hurts. Truth liberates. But the truth must be served. The truth will set our country free...
“Only the truth, not lies and deceits, will set our country free. This truth challenges us now to communal action.”
Lagdameo had previously signed a joint statement calling for a rejection of “morally bankrupt” government.
The Makati Business Club (MBC), another influential group, has also expressed support for a possible people-power uprising similar to those that ousted Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada in 1986 and 2001, respectively; but stated it would not favor a military takeover.
Vice President Noli de Castro has, in television interviews, expressed willingness to take over the reins of government as constitutional successor should Arroyo be removed from power or forced to resign from office.
Meanwhile, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, in a Feb. 15 statement e-mailed to media from his base in the Netherlands where he has been seeking asylum since the cancellation of his passport in 1988, said Arroyo is “ripe for ouster” by the broad mass movement.
“The sheer growth of the legal and peaceful mass actions in the national capital region and on a national scale in the coming days, weeks and months can encourage the military and police to withdraw support from the Arroyo ruling clique and can suffice to cause the resignation, impeachment or outright ouster of the illegitimate and morally bankrupt president,” Sison said.
The younger De Venecia said he certainly hopes the mass actions would lead to Arroyo’s resignation.
“This is too much already,” he said on corruption under the Arroyo government. “The Filipino masses can no longer take it. The middle classes can no longer take it...”
“My call is for her to step down,” he said of Arroyo. Bulatlat