Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And the Plot Thickens

(The man of the hour. A caricature of Chairman Romulo Neri of Commission on Higher Education, who was trasferred to this post from NEDA after rejecting the ZTE broadband deal.)

"The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."---Winston Churchill

The quest for the truth behind the much talked about NBN-ZTE contract has become Arthurian in nature. Calls for the lofty ideals of truthfulness, integrity and honor are being made of the government officials summoned to appear and testify at the Senate. Following "Joey" or Jose de Venecia III's explosive testimony, the next man to be literally grilled on the proverbial kitchen sink or burner is former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary and now Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Romulo Neri. He was apparently transferred to this new post after his former office flatly rejected the ZTE proposal. Just today, 26 Sep 07, appearing with Commission on Elections (Comelec) Benjamin Abalos on the Senate hearing, he recalled how the former offered him Php 200 million in kickback if he were to push through with the now ballyhooed deal. To quote Abalos, "me 200 ka dyan Secretary." He said he assumed it was P200 million “given the magnitude of the project...Siguro hindi naman P200 or P200,000.” Apparently, he couldn't stomach the negotiation, rejected the ZTE proposal and informed PGMA of the nefarious offer by Abalos. He further revealed that the President ordered him to reject the offer.

But what he and the president further discussed regarding the controversial project, he simply refused to reveal by invoking the blanket of protection offered by Executive Order 464. One must recall that this executive order, which was ingeniously drafted at the height of the Hello Garci controversy, bars pertinent government officials from discussing issues which involves “conversations with the President.” Essentially, it is an all-encompassing gag order which restricts officials from giving testimonies in a public hearing say, in the Senate or in the Congress, which could prove damning to the executive office. It is a two-edged sword which prevents the official from perjuring himself and the highest official in the land, the President, herself. As such, EO 464 is the main escape route of officials who are burdened by the knowledge of the truth but doesn't want to run the risk of outrightly telling a lie. They can keep their blessed silence by simply invoking this seemingly innocuous executive order and instantly free themselves of the task of telling the nerve-wracking truth or a convoluted lie. (It takes fun out of the game if you ask me.)

The real story behind the NBN-ZTE broadband deal is becoming more and more complicated, with additional characters coming to light as the days go by. With the plot thickening, it threatens to spill over and implicate the President herself. What does she truly know about the broadband deal? Was she aware of her huband's supposed contentious involvement? And more importantly, why is Comelec Chairman Abalos even a part of this issue when his primary concern in the government is the "counting" of votes come election time? Is there any special link behind his involvement in the deal?

In the end, we all just all want to know the truth. Truth that will hopefully set us free--finally.

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