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MANILA, Philippines – Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. has told media that he’s willing to testify against ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over the botched NBN-ZTE deal.
But will he? And about what exactly?
On January 1, the Philippine Star reported that De Venecia was being eyed as a witness in the graft case that was recently filed by the Ombudsman against Mrs Arroyo, her husband and two other former government officials with the Sandiganbayan.
On Wednesday, January 3, ABS-CBN aired an interview with De Venecia who confirmed he’s willing to testify in court about the circumstances behind the controversial deal.
De Venecia’s son Joey, said to be planning a 2013 senatorial run under the PDP-Laban, exposed in 2007 the alleged involvement of Mrs Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel and other government officials in the scrapped US$329-million National Broadband Network project.
Joey de Venecia had already testified on this before the Sandiganbayan in February 2011. He implicated former Commission on Elections Benjamin Abalos as one of those who benefited from the deal.
But Joey de Venecia has always cleared Mrs Arroyo of any knowledge of the under-the-table transactions that led to the contract.
The younger De Venecia told a 2007 Senate probe: “I was sure that my President, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and my father, Speaker Joe De Venecia was (sic) unaware of the intricate technological details of the NBN Project and could not stomach the fact that my President and my Speaker would be dragged into a transaction that required undisclosed advances and under-the-table kickbacks to sweeten the deal.”
He added: “The President was not involved in any of this transaction, including the monumental morning where the First Gentleman asked me to back off. So in relation to the backing off or the bullying of me by the First Gentleman, my President, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was not involved and may not know of that situation.”
The Arroyo administration awarded the contract to ZTE Corp. in April 2007 in ceremonies in Boao, China witnessed by Mrs Arroyo and Chinese officials. Then Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro Mendoza signed for the government.
Arroyo was later forced to cancel the deal after Joey de Venecia’s exposé at the Senate.
In 2008, Newsbreak‘s Carmela Fonbuena wrote about how the older De Venecia at the time engaged in a “strip tease” vis-a-vis reports that he was willing to testify against Mrs Arroyo as early as then. This was four months after he was ousted as Speaker of the House and president of the ruling party then, Lakas-CMD-NUCD.
Below is Fonbuena’s story in June 2008 about De Venecia’s hints that he would turn his back on the Arroyos:
Either Pangasinan Rep. Jose “JDV” De Venecia Jr. withheld information from his son, Joey, on President Arroyo’s golf game with ZTE Corp. officials or Joey withheld information from the senators in a September 2007 hearing.
Between his claims, his son’s, and other witnesses’, it remains unclear what crucial information on the botched US$329 million broadband deal JDV is holding and, more importantly, what part of what he knows he is willing to tell.
Various sectors believe—owing to his closeness to President Arroyo—that the former Speaker must know a lot about the botched project. But the way he engages in a strip tease—only hinting about supposedly explosive testimonies he can make before the Senate—JDV’s endgame is anyone’s guess.
Earlier, he had warned that the government may “fall” if he told what he knew about the botched deal. Recovering from flu, he is saying now that he wants to make sure that he is in top shape when he finally decides to “tell all.”
We pieced together the new revelations of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and ex-ally of President Arroyo and the testimonies of other witnesses, including his son, to make sense of his knowledge and involvement in the project.
Father introduces son
A statement made by Department of Transportation and Telecommunications chief Leandro Mendoza before a Senate hearing on Sept. 20, 2007 stands out. He said it was JDV who pushed for Joey’s bid for the broadband project. “Actually, the son was introduced to me by the father,” he said.
Mendoza said that JDV invited him early in 2007 at least once to his house in Makati City , where they discussed the project. Joey’s Amsterdam Holdings Inc. was one of the bidders of the project. It lost to ZTE Corp., which won the award in April that year. By August, bribery allegations surrounding the approval of ZTE Corp.’s bid surfaced. And then Joey appeared in a Senate hearing in September.
As the bribery allegations got intense in October, Joey accused Mendoza of plotting to assassinate him and his dad.
Joey: Out of the loop?
Curiously, JDV’s latest statements and Joey’s testimony in September—which was supposedly based on his dad’s account of the golf game—don’t match.
The older De Venecia recently told reporters that the lunch meeting that followed the golf game was the “turning point” of the government policy on how to finance the national broadband project.
Photos of this golf game, which JDV was a part of, came out recently.
Consistent with his son’s testimony in a Senate hearing, JDV said that President Arroyo originally rooted for a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme. Joey testified in a September 2007 Senate hearing that President Arroyo told alleged project mastermind, then Commission on Elections Benjamin Abalos Sr., “Bakit hindi mo gayahin ang proposal ni Joey ngayon na walang guarantee, walang debt, walang subsidy and no risk to government.” Abalos was also present in the golf game.
The President statement supposedly made the older De Venecia proud of his son. “As a proud father, my father immediately, when he got back to Manila at the same day, gave me a call and said that the President was not necessarily in favor of the contract but cited the benefits of my proposal,” Joey said in the hearing.
What the proud father, curiously, didn’t tell his son (or Joey didn’t tell the senators) was that in the same trip in China , the entire plan changed. Then and there, President Arroyo supposedly decided to finance the project with a government-to-government loan instead. “After the golf game, during lunch, it changed,” JDV told reporters over the weekend. The details of this latest testimony he is yet to divulge.
It appears that this information has been withheld from Joey until recently. Days before this statement, after the May 28 Ombudsman hearing, reporters asked Joey to shed light on his dad’s involvement. At that time, JDV just made the warning that the government may fall if he divulges what he knows.
“What I want to ask him is if he knows anything else that I don’t know,” he told reporters. He reiterated his testimony, “The President was telling Chairman Abalos if he could pattern his proposal on a BOT just like what I’ve suggested. That’s all I know.”
Asked if he knows of other meetings with ZTE officials that the former Speaker attended or chanced upon, Joey said, “I don’t know. I only know what the President told Chairman Abalos in the golf game. That’s all I know.”
Joey clears GMA
During the Senate hearing where Joey talked about the golf game, he stressed—supposedly based on his dad’s account of the golf game—the President was unaware of any under-the-table deal involving the government’s national broadband network project.
“I was sure that my President, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and my father, Speaker Joe De Venecia was (sic) unaware of the intricate technological details of the NBN Project and could not stomach the fact that my President and my Speaker would be dragged into a transaction that required undisclosed advances and under-the-table kickbacks to sweeten the deal.”
The broadband project was at its initial stages back then, he said. The golf game happened on Nov. 2, 2006. It was a few months later, or in March 2007, that the infamous “back off” incident—where First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo supposedly told Joey to withdraw his bid for the project to favor the ZTE Corp.—took place.
Joey even hastened to clear President Arroyo despite her husband’s involvement. “The President was not involved in any of this transaction including the monumental morning where the First Gentleman asked me to back off. So in relation to the backing off or the bullying of me by the First Gentleman, my President, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was not involved and may not know of that situation.”
At the time of this testimony, President Arroyo was supposedly mending fences with then Speaker Jose De Venecia. It would be five months later, or in February 2008, that he would be ousted as Speaker and Lakas-CMD president. – Rappler.com