Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sandiganbayan urged to convict ex-poll chief

THE prosecution panel has asked the Sandiganbayan to render a guilty verdict against former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos in connection with the controversial NBN-ZTE deal in 2007.

In a 23-page memorandum submitted to the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, Prosecution Bureau IX director Ireneo Paldeng and Assistant Special Prosecutor Jacinto dela Cruz Jr. said the government has sufficiently proven its case against Abalos to secure conviction.

The prosecution presented 17 witnesses during the trial including Jose "Joey" de Venecia III, engineer Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., project consultant Dante Madriaga and former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri.

Abalos is the lone defense witness.

The former poll body chief was accused of abusing his position as Comelec chairman when he allegedly brokered for China's Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment Inc. (ZTE) the contract to implement the National Broadband Network (NBN) project.

Prosecutors said he received a fee or "commission" for his efforts even when the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act specifically prohibits any public official from having pecuniary interests in a government project.

Abalos also allegedly offered a P200-million bribe to Neri, forcing Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), a competing contractor, to withdraw from the bidding of the broadband project.

De Venecia, president and general manager of AHI, claimed he was offered a bribe of $10 million to withdraw his challenge on ZTE's proposal.

In his testimony, Lozada said Abalos tried hard to protect the $130 million which he understood to be the former poll official's commission.

He added that from the original evaluation of $262 million, which already included fat payoffs to various officials, the NBN-ZTE contract further ballooned to $329 million by the time it was approved.

Madriaga, on the other hand, recalled that the original ZTE proposal was only $129 million but the cost escalated to $259 million, then $289 million before settling at $329 million.

He said he was informed by one Leo San Miguel that the project cost had to be jacked up several times "to make room for “tongpats” or grease money for corrupt officials.

All the said witnesses identified Abalos as the one who pushed for ZTE's proposal.

In his testimony, Abalos said it was then Speaker de Venecia and his son who approached him first so he can get AHI connected to ZTE people.

Abalos admitted that he knew some ZTE officials but only because of their shared interest in golf.

The prosecution said the sum of all testimonies against Abalos clearly established his financial interests in the deal, which former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scrapped in October 2007 following public uproar over reports of corruption.

"Certainly, given that the accused occupied an important constitutional office at the time...and became the fortunate recipient of acts of generosity and hospitality from a corporation which eventually entered into a multi-billion peso contract with the Philippine government raises reasonable questions regarding the purpose of such 'generosity'," the prosecution said. (John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)
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