October 04, 2007

Aftermath of the NBN fiasco

Alls well that ends well, or so they say. The National Broadband Network (NBN) government-to-government deal, hounded by charges of malfeasance by high-ranking Philippine officials including, one mustn’t forget, their Chinese counterparts, has been scrapped by de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Chinese President Hu Jintao has graciously accepted her decision; anyway, there are other projects in the pipeline. Not only that, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos, a golfing buddy of officials of ZTE, the Chinese government-owned corporation that would have been the supplier of the contract, has resigned, disappointed that the Senators had chosen to believe the whistleblower, a “drug addict,” over him. He said he would now go on a well-deserved “grand vacation.”

Mrs. Arroyo insists that a worthwhile project that the government had taken years to develop and clinch had been sacrificed in the “political noise” generated by the NBN controversy. She stands by the denial of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo that he had any hand in brokering the deal. Malacanang officials say that Mr. Abalos is innocent of the charges of offering a $10 million bribe to Jose de Venecia III, the business man-son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia and a rival bidder for the project, and another P200 million to the former Director-General of the National Economic Development Agency (NEDA), Romulo Neri, who would recommend the approval of the project.

Malacanang’s troubleshooting efforts paid off when it was able to convince Mr. Neri to invoke the executive privilege of Mrs. Arroyo in order to refuse to testify as to his principal’s involvement in the sordid affair. A firewall has thus been erected to protect Mrs. Arroyo and her fire brigade hopes it is just a matter of time and the whole thing will blow over. But will it?

Despite the regime’s frantic efforts at damage control too much has already been exposed about the deal and circumstances behind its approval. This episode has added to the public’s dismay and anger at the rampant corruption in government as a result of each side uncovering the other’s shenanigans. But it is the Arroyo regime that stands to grow more politically isolated in the wake of this latest expose.

Mrs. Arroyo and her husband can no longer escape from strong suspicion that they had a direct hand in cooking up a deal highly-disadvantageous to government but highly-rewarding to them. Their attempts to stonewall the Senate investigation, and when that didn’t work, to cover-up their criminal tracks, have only added fuel to the fire.

The rift between Mrs. Arroyo and her erstwhile ally, Speaker de Venecia, over the NBN contract has created a big crack in the ruling coalition. The spirit of mutual accommodation and confidence in the hitherto unbreakable alliance between them has been shattered.

It is foreseeable that this will lead to further and intensifying conflicts between them and their followers. For one, despite the scuttling of the NBN deal, Mr. de Venecia III, has continued to speak out against other alleged co-conspirators including a wealthy businessman-benefactor of Mrs. Arroyo’s Team Unity slate in the May elections. His father has not spoken a word to counter or mitigate his statements. The logical thing then for the Arroyo clique to aim for in the near future is to cut Speaker de Venecia down to size.

Will this episode and the cancellation of the deal mean that Arroyo regime has learned its lessons and will, for the remainder of its term, “back off”? Unfortunately, there is nothing to indicate that this is so. In the first place, the main conspirators in this dirty deal have become overweening, flagrant and careless precisely because they had been getting away with even bigger scams before. In the second place, Malacanang has taken the usual route of bare-faced denial of any wrongdoing.

More likely, the lessons the regime will seek and try to learn is “Where did we go wrong”, meaning, “Why and how did we get caught?” Clearly, this time they had grossly miscalculated things and the situation then spun out of control. They will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

However, no matter the fervid intentions of Mrs. Arroyo, her cronies and subalterns, the fact is the corrupt NBN contract is not an exceptional case and there are more that will sooner or later leak out or be exposed. Let us be reminded that this administration has a long string of graft and corruption cases that have not been resolved to the satisfaction of either the public or the ends of justice.

Thus it is only a matter of time when our people will begin to say once more, “Enough is enough!” With every new outrage – whether another corruption case, another scandal, another attempt to cover-up – the bases for massive people’s protests and the strengthening of the movement to oust Mrs. Arroyo are being laid. It is the latter that can push the matter to its rightful conclusion, give just punishment to corrupt high government officials and their ilk and hopefully usher genuine and lasting reforms in government and society. ###


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home