Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. confirmed that Benjamin
Abalos Sr. had planned to give a P200-million bribe to Romulo Neri,
once the national broadband network project was approved.
Abalos, formerly chairman of the
Commission on Elections, earlier denied Neri’s Senate testimony
where he disclosed the bribe offer. Neri quoted Abalos as saying,
“Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (Secretary, you have 200 here.)
Lozada was the witness Friday
before the Senate blue-ribbon committee headed by Sen. Alan Peter
Cayetano. Lozada often represented Neri in discussions on the
national broadband project with Abalos and the proponent from China,
Lozada, an electronics engineer
brought in as a key witness to assess the national broadband deal,
said during the inquiry he was told to reduce the kickbacks to
President Gloria Arroyo’s allies and to “moderate their
The $330-million contract that
ZTE Corp. won has since been canceled amid allegations of bribery
and corruption linking senior government officials and President
Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.
Lozada, often wiping tears from
his eyes, told the investigators how he feared for his life.
The fallout from the controversy
has cost a former ally of President Arroyo, Jose de Venecia Jr., his
post as Speaker of the House of Representatives and seen the
resignation of Abalos. The Speaker’s son, Jose “Joey” de
Venecia 3rd, earlier testified that Abalos and Mike Arroyo were
linked to the broadband deal—charges they have both denied.
Lozada asserted that Abalos, a
close friend of the President’s husband, demanded that the
contract be awarded to the Chinese firm.
“The trouble started when
Abalos came to me to sell the [ZTE Corp.] proposal in September
2006,” he said under oath.
Lozada added that Abalos had told
him “to protect” his $130-million “commission.”
“I warned him, that would stick
out, but we might be able to get 65 [million dollars],” he said he
told Abalos after consulting with Jose de Venecia. He represented
another proponent, Amsterdam Holdings Inc. Lozada said he was trying
to “reconcile” the proposals of Abalos and de Venecia, so that
they will work together.
Lozada said Neri, who eventually
approved the revised contract, instructed him to “moderate their
Over the next 16 months, he said,
he met Abalos, de Venecia, ZTE Corp. officials, a commercial
counselor from the Chinese Embassy in Manila and Mike Arroyo to
discuss the broadband project.
Lozada said when it initially
appeared that the Chinese proposal would be junked, Abalos called
him in January 2007, swore at him, and told him not to show up in
Wack-Wack or anywhere in Mandaluyong or he would have Lozada killed.
The witness told the Senate he
asked to be taken off the project evaluation team after that.
“This is not worth risking my life for,” Lozada said.
He said he recalled that he was
in Wack-Wack in a meeting with Abalos when he told Chinese
representatives from ZTE that their project was moving forward.
Wack-Wack is an exclusive residential village in Metro Manila’s
Mandaluyong City of which Abalos was once mayor.
“Abalos was obviously elated,
he put an arm on my shoulder at the locker room and said that once
the [broadband] contract was signed, he would immediately give the
P200 million he had promised because he was unlike others,” Lozada
He stressed that Abalos also told
him that the money was meant for Neri and not for him because he was
only an “alalay” or aide of Neri. Neri had told the blue-ribbon
committee that he reported the P200-million bribe offer of Abalos to
President Arroyo. Neri said he had rejected the kickback.
Lozada said Neri had told him
about his talks with the President but he declined to give details,
even when Sen. Francis Pangilinan advised him that it was not
hearsay to tell what he and Neri had discussed.
Sen. Francis Escudero noted that
Neri now appeared to be siding with Malacañang and had already
abandoned Lozada. Lozada, however, said he was not taking this
against Neri, whom he described as a dear friend.
“I know he still cares for
me,” Lozada said of Neri. “He has chosen to take sides, but I
still respect him,” he added, while expressing the hope that Neri
would tell everything that he knows about the aborted broadband
Lozada said it was the norm in
government to get kickbacks from projects but he contended that the
$130-million “commission” that Abalos was trying to protect in
the broadband deal was “too much.”
He identified the Southrail as
another government project whose cost had gone up because of alleged
graft. The Southrail, with a total cost of $932 million, was meant
to rehabilitate the railways from Manila to southern Bicol Region.
The first phase involves a 423-kilometer stretch from Calamba,
Laguna, to Legazpi City, Albay, costing $627.8 million. Phase 2 is a
new 135-kilometer railway line from Legazpi City to Sorsogon costing
Lozada said he was familiar with
the Southrail project, one of the three projects he had handled for
the National Economic and Development Authority. He added that the
project was overpriced by at least 20 percent.
Lozada said while the broadband
project was followed up by Abalos, the Southrail was followed up by
a certain “Anthony Wang” and a “Mallari.”
When he was asked if the two were
coordinating with Malacañang, he said that they had told him that
they would be responsible for those in Malacañang.
He described the Southrail as a
government project that had escaped scrutiny but was actually part
of the government’s “dysfunctional procurement process.”
Sen. Manuel Roxas 2nd said he
would file a resolution on Monday to call for an investigation of
the Southrail project.
“We have to be vigilant and
zealous when it comes to protecting our people’s money because
obviously the looting of our treasury has been going on for some
time,” he added.
In his opening statement at the
Senate inquiry, Roxas said the broadband deal was not about
modernizing the Philippines.
“It is about lining the pockets
of those in power. It is not about serving the Republic, it is about
syndicated looting of our treasury,” he charged.
Senate President Manuel Villar
Jr. said the investigation of the Southrail could be undertaken
after the blue-ribbon committee had disposed of the broadband
In the House of Representatives,
opposition Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City called for
reopening of its probe of the broadband project, as well as the
Cyber Education project that is also perceived to be anomalous.
Rodriguez said the former
Speaker’s hint of having personal knowledge of the broadband
contract gives the House a compelling reason to conduct the inquiry.
-- Efren L. Danao and AFP