Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's the Deal with the NBN Deal?

( Is he telling the truth? Photo above is the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia, "Joey" de Venecia or Jose de Venecia III)


The latest government scandal to hit the newsstands these days is the National Broadband Network (NBN) and ZTE contract broadband deal. To put it plainly, this shady agreement amounting to US$329 million dollars (PhP 25 billion) was signed between the RP government and the Chinese company, ZTE Corp., to provide the Philippine government agencies a national broadband connection. ZTE will sponsor the loan and infrastructure for a mere 3 percent interest per annum which will interconnect all national agencies from Luzon to Mindanao, a supposedly a good idea as this will ensure faster and better services of the pertinent government agencies. Moreso, this deal will also pave the way for cyber or E-education to reach the public schools nationwide as they will be also given free internet access which includes a 20-30 minutes footage of educational materials to beef up their declining quality of education. This is purportedly a bright idea given the dearth of public school teachers and more importantly, their inadequacy of good teaching skills due to lack of training. It would be like hitting two birds in one stone. The government gets to resolve the lack of teachers or quality teachers for that matter, by simply giving away computers with internet connection to rural schoolkids. They get to have instant teachers, with quality education and skills by just watching live internet feed from the tv sets. Viola, problem, instantly solved! And not only that, this particular benefit is just a small consequence of the greater broadband connection. In theory, the deal will benefit the government by saving millions of pesos in terms of telephone bills and internet connection access as it will magically interconnect the entire national government agencies for more efficient and speedier public service.

It all sounds so good to be true. And it is. Two months after signing the agreement, the real picture suddenly comes all out in the open, ugly insinuations of muti-million dollar kickbacks by several high profile government officials were revealed by a virtual unknown in the Philippine politics radar. His namesake and father, is a political heavyweight, a presidential loser and wannabe for the longest time, but he himself is a private businessman who goes by the unassuming name Joey. His real full name is Jose de Venecia III.

The burning question now is, "Is he telling the truth?" What are his motives for allegedly speaking the truth, for brazenly burning political bridges by sharing to the Senate damning accusations against the close allies of his father? Yesterday, 18 Sep, Joey or JDV III, attended the Senate hearing regarding the controversial NBN deal and even showed them how the FG Mike Arroyo, who hurriedly left the country for a "long-planned" trip, brownbeat him in staying out of the government deal. Prior to this, he already claimed on national tv that Comelec Chairman Abalos brokered the deal for ZTE to win the government contract against other foreign bidders which includes his own Amsterdam Holdings Inc. He was supposedly offered a US$ 10 million dollars bribe just to stay out of the government sponsored deal. But then burdened by the weight of his conscience, he felt compelled to reveal that the deal was overpriced by at least US$ 130 million just to accommodate kickbacks of top government officials, not excluding the President's omnipresent husband.

Or No Deal?

More recently, PGMA announced that she was suspending the NBN contract because it was generating much unwanted "political noise." She reiterated that the suspension would be a step back to the cyber highway and E-progress that her government promised but that she was left with no choice as her political detractors were unneccesarily fussing over the legality of the said contract. New SWS ratings showed her satisfaction rating was at its worst, garnering a negative eleven (-11) percent approval rating, partly due to the recently concluded Estrada plunder case and the controversial contract. Still, government officials claim that the suspension will be a disservice to the country as this deal will purportedly save the government Php 20 billion in the first five years alone and Php 60 billion in the next twenty years. Apparently, the government spends about Php 4 billion annually for its telecommunication expenses. Where they got the exact mathematical figures for the savings is beyond the logic of explanation.

Ironically, it was Joey or JDV III who served as the "bridge" to link PGMA and JDV back in 1998. It must be recalled that PGMA was the winning Vice President of then presidential hopeful JDV. At that time, though a political novice, Arroyo made a good name for herself as a Senator (and was highly popular because of her uncanny resemblance to Nora Aunor in her political posters) but wasn't JDV's top choice as VP partner. His primary choice then was late Senator Barbers ( recall Garci scandal) and or Tito Sotto, the actor-politician, who subsequently lost in the 2007 Senatorial election, primarily for being an actor. Filipinos are rather fickle-minded in their choice of political leaders. At one point, being a popular tv personality is enough to ensure one of a stable political career in whichever seat and province or city you may want to be. But seeing that tv actors/personalities is no guarantee for a graft-free and corruption-less political environment, voters soon shunned these popular figures as suitable political candidates. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, one major point in case is the Star for all Season and renowned dramatic actress Vilma Santos, who won a landslide victory as the governor of Batangas province. But still, the rule of the thumb these days is that you can't expect your pleasant-looking face and affable personality to assure you of a political victory, qualities which were good enough some five or ten years ago.

Indeed, the Philippine political milieu changes in the blink of an eye. One minute, you're the hottest political star on the rise and the next second you are out of the game. As such, it is highly important that one knows how to play one's political cards correctly. PGMA knows the value of this. If not for her adept political manuevering, she wouldn't be PGMA nor she would have stayed as PGMA. How she will temper the latest political storm resulting from this NBN deal is a classic study for all political enthusiasts and students alike. My bet is that she could still find a way out of this conundrum and maintain her mighty act that she is still only commencing the deal for the benefit and good of this confused nation.

So is it a deal or no deal?

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