Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chinese officials ignore Senate hearing on ZTE scandal

Despite the brouhahas that implicated the name of former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos who allegedly brokered the anomalous multi-million dollar national broadband deal with China, ranking officials of the ZTE Corporation hadn't budged an inch to the calls of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to attend a hearing that would eventually shed more light on the scrapped NBN-ZTE broadband project.

ZTE chair Fu Yong and Chinese embassy commercial attache Fan Yang were invited to testify at a public hearing called by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to no avail. Philippine senators have interpreted the continuous refusal of the Chinese officials as a show of arrogance against weak nations like the Philippines.

Senate minority floor leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the ZTE officials must appear during a formal hearing to be conducted by the respective committees and take advantage of the opportunity to clear the cobwebs that now blur the controversy surrounding the latest revelations made by key witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr., former president of the Philippine Forest Corporation and a government consultant on the NBN-ZTE broadband project.

The senators' concern right now is for the ZTE officials to come forward and tell the public that the broadband project between the Philippines and China is not overpriced. During a public hearing, Lozada revealed that the NBN-ZTE project was allegedly overpriced by as much as US$130 million.

Sharing Pimentel's sentiments, Sen. Richard Gordon also lambasted the ZTE officials for ignoring the invitation for them to appear at the public hearing, saying they should help by showing their financial records to the Senate probers. The senators said the Chinese officials should clarify that no bribed money was offered to high government officials in connection with the ZTE broadband contract.

But prior to his public revelation in the Senate, Lozada went missing for at least 20 hours, after he arrived from a weeklong trip in Hong Kong when plainclothes police security personnel fetched him at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Feb. 5. Then, Lozada was whisked away out into a special exit for airport VIPs and into a waiting vehicle, making his family who was waiting at the arrival area worried because Lozada was nowhere to be found.

Lozada was supposed to be picked up by a waiting security personnel from the Senate who would serve the warrant for his arrest, after Lozada escaped to Hong Kong without attending the Senate public hearing, but their waiting went in vain, too. Then, Lozada's wife sought the help of Senate President Manuel Villar and alerted the media for the missing Lozada.

In retaliation for Lozada's revelations, government agents led by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided Lozada's office at the Philippine Forest Corporation in Taguig City. The raiding team from the NBI Anti-Graft Division, took some important documents with the help of the newly installed officer-in-charge Erwin Krishna Santos, after Lozada resigned his post. Lozada called his replacement as another "judas" who handed the documents for a price.

Meanwhile, Representatives Roilo Golez and Rufus Rodriguez branded the NBI raid as another form of government's harassment and intimidation efforts to get back at the key witness, now under the protective custody of the Senate.

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