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Former speaker ready to testify vs Arroyos in NBN-ZTE fiasco

MANILA, Philippines (Jan 5, 2012) - Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. disclosed yesterday that he is willing to testify against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her Sandiganbayan trial in connection with the botched NBN -ZTE deal.

The Ombudsman has filed graft charges against Arroyo in connection with the aborted $329-million national broadband network (NBN) contract her administration awarded to Chinese firm ZTE Corp. in 2007.

The deal would soon become one of the major scandals that rocked the Gloria Arroyo presidency over allegations of overpricing by as much as $200 million, bribery and schemes to defraud the Filipinos.

De Venecia was the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the  controversial deal was hatched.

“If I get a subpoena from the Sandigan, I have no choice but to testify,” he said.

Alternatively, he said prosecutors could get a copy of the proceedings in the House committee on justice where he testified against then President Arroyo in 2008 on the NBN deal when the panel was hearing an impeachment complaint against her.

He said he also included in his authorized biography an entire chapter on how the NBN project evolved from one that would be undertaken under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement to one financed through a loan from China.

He said there is a picture in the book of him, Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel, then chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections, and ZTE officials after their golf game at the Shenzhen Golf Club on Nov. 2, 2006.

“Those are public documents that prosecutors can obtain and use as evidence,” he added.

Arroyo is accused of two counts of graft for allegedly showing unusual interest in the NBN contract and of allegedly violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees for playing golf with ZTE officials who were interested in the broadband project.

Accused with her are her husband, Abalos and former transportation and communications secretary Leandro Mendoza.

De Venecia recalled that he and his wife Gina were in Hong Kong when Arroyo, who was also there with her husband, invited him to play golf on Nov. 2, 2006.

On their way to Shenzhen, he said Arroyo was talking about the need to undertake the NBN project on a BOT basis.

He said upon arrival at the golf club, he was surprised to see Abalos, who was with ZTE officials, welcoming them.

“He even announced that we would have the well-known Shanghai crabs, which were in season, for lunch after the game,” he said.

He added that there were discussions during lunch on financing the broadband network with a loan from China.

“That was the turning point for NBN. It was converted from a BOT project at no cost to the government and taxpayers to one with a loan guaranteed by the Republic and to be paid by taxpayers,” he stressed.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, the principal complainant in the case against Arroyo, has suggested that prosecutors enlist De Venecia as a witness.

Arroyo allies led by her congressmen-sons ousted De Venecia as speaker in early 2008, months after his son, Joey de Venecia III, exposed irregularities and kickbacks in the NBN contract.

Asked what he would do if he were in Arroyo’s shoes, the former speaker said, “I will come clean and tell the truth, for what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

When asked if he were suggesting that the former president confess to her alleged sins, De Venecia said, “You know, there is such a thing as presidential pardon.”

Arroyo’s legal team handling the election sabotage case before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court has adopted a wait-and-see attitude regarding the new graft charges filed against their client at the Sandiganbayan.

Arroyo’s lead defense counsel Jose Flaminiano told The STAR that as of yesterday they have not received any copy of the resolution of the ombudsman indicting Arroyo on graft charges.

“We will not be making any legal move until we receive and read the resolution,” he said. (From