Abalos conviction in NBN-ZTE case sought

Prosecutors have completed presentation of evidence against former elections chief Benjamin Abalos, who's charged for getting commission for facilitating the botched contract

Former Commission on Elections chief Benjamin Abalos. Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – Government prosecutors have sought the conviction of former elections chief Benjamin Abalos for allegedly getting commissions from a telecommunications deal with a Chinese firm during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

After presenting their final set of evidence, government lawyers submitted a memorandum on Friday, April 11, telling the anti-graft court’s fourth division that they had sufficiently proven their case against Abalos. 

The defense on the other hand presented the defendant as its lone witness to refute the allegations leveled against him.

The lawyers, led by Prosecution Bureau IX director Ireneo Paldeng and Assistant Special Prosecutor Jacinto M. dela Cruz Jr, presented 17 witnesses in all, while the defense had only Abalos himself to refute their allegations.

Abalos is charged for abusing his position as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) when he brokered for China’s Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment Incorporated (ZTE) to get the contract for the national government’s National Broadband Network project between September 2006 and April 2007.

For this, Abalos was supposed to have received $130 million in commission from ZTE, thereby bloating the original contract cost to $329 million.

He is also accused of offering a P200-million bribe to then Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri for the approval of the project, and $10 million to businessman Joey de Venecia for his Amsterdam Holdings Incorporated (AHI), a competing contractor, to drop its bid for the project.

These were in violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits public officials from having pecuniary interests in government projects.

Project consultant Dante Madriaga testified that the original cost of the project was only $129 million, but it increased several times – to $259 million, then $289 million, to $329 million. He quoted a certain Leo San Miguel telling him they had to make room for “tongpats,” literally “patong” or cost padding to bribe officials.

Abalos, for his part, testified that he only knew some ZTE officials because of their shared interest in golf. He said it was in fact Joey de Venecia and his father, then Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr, who asked him to introduce AHI to ZTE executives.

These testimonies, the prosecution said, clearly established that Abalos had financial interests in the NBN-ZTE deal.

“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. – Rappler.com 

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