A “missing” key witness in the national broadband network (NBN) controversy surfaced early Thursday morning and detailed his recollections on the now-nullified government contract with China’s ZTE Corp. in a televised press conference.
Seated with bishops and nuns at the La Salle Greenhills gym in Mandaluyong City, in Metro Manila, starting at 2:30 a.m., Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. narrated chronically his experiences in the preparations of the NBN project with China’s ZTE Corp., including a direct threat made by the now-resigned elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and the apparent involvement of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Reading from a prepared text, Lozada said his involvement in the NBN project began when Romulo Neri, the secretary of economic planning at the time, introduced him to Abalos at the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club in October 2006. he said also present were ZTE vice president Yu Yong, ZTE director Fan Yang along with certain Philippine officials and another NBN project proponent, Jose “Joey” de Venecia III.
He said the National Economic and Development Authority, which Neri headed at the time and had him as a project consultant, received its first copy of the ZTE proposal sometime in November 2006.
He said the first item he noticed that the financial projections were based on data from the Abante Tonite tabloid on how much the government was spending on telecommunications.
He said he found it funny that the financials were based on data from a tabloid, and that he subsequently told ZTE representatives to improve their project presentation
Lozada also said he encouraged Joey de Venecia, son and namesake of the erstwhile House Speaker, as representative of NBN project proponent Amsterdam Holdings Inc., to pursue his project development.
He said Neri told him to reconcile ZTE’s and Joey’s proposals. He said that as Abalos’ “objective” was to get a loan for the project, he proposed that De Venecia III be the main proponent — as the project was to be done on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement — and Abalos be the supplier.
Lozada said “I guess the trouble started when Abalos wanted to protect” his $130-million “commission.” He said he told Abalos the amount was too big — “Sabi ko, bubukol po ito.” [“It’s going to show.”]
He said Joey de Venecia’s “reaction was ballistic.” He said the project cost was $262 million, and so there was the question of where De Venecia could get Abalos’ $130 million.
He said he told them “’bahala na kayo diyan,’ that’s your problem.”
He also said the Chinese were alarmed, because “advances had already been given to Abalos.”
Lozada said Abalos then “started considering doing the project on his own.”
“I told him that Neri said — because GMA [President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] had told him — that the project was to be done on a BOT arrangement.
Lozada also recalled a phone call Abalos had with First Gentleman Arroyo in which he heard Abalos say, “Kung ganyan kayo kausap, kalimutan na lang ang lahat ng usapan natin.” [“If that’s the way you make deals, forget everything we have agreed on.”]
Lozada narrated an early-December 2006 meeting in which First Gentleman Arroyo told Abalos, “Pare, okay na kami ni Joey.” [“Buddy, Joey and I are okay now.”]
He also said the ZTE representatives were “demanding from Abalos,” and wanted an “a la NorthRail agreement.” He said he did not know what that meant.
Lozada said that on Jan. 18, 2007 — “the day I quit the project” — Abalos called him up and asked, “Alam ba ni Neri ang ginagawa mo? … Alam mo ba na malapit ako sa military?” [“Does Neri know what you are doing? … Do you know that I am close to the military?”]
He said Abalos then started cussing. “… Mga hayop kayo, tinatraydor ‘nyo ako [you are double-crossing me].”
He said Abalos told him, “Huwag ka magpapakita sa akin sa Wack-Wack o ipapapatay kita.” [“Don’t let me see you at Wack-Wack or I will have you killed.”]
Abalos was president of the Wack-Wack club at the time.
Lozada said at the press conference, “I don’t think this project is worth risking my life for.”
Lozada went on to recall that on Feb. 7, 2007, and executive order was issued by the Office of the President assigning the NBN project to the Department of Transportation and Communications with a project cost of $329 million.
“When the project started, the project cost was $262 million,” he said. “When it was approved, the project cost was already $329 million … I am not imputing anything.”
He said the matter showed what he called “dysfunctional government procurement.” He said it was “systemic… about how we procure projects.”
Lozada emphasized, “I don’t want to speak along party lines. I don’t want this to be taken as something partisan.”
Lozada tearfully finished reading from the prepared text: “Ang salitang Pilipino ay hindi lang tungkol sa isang pamilya. Ang salitang Pilipino ay tungkol sa isang bansa. … And sometimes it is worth taking a risk para sa ating bansa.” [“The word Filipino is not about a family. The word Filipino is about a country. …And sometimes it worth taking a risk for our country.”]
Lozada said at the press conference that he was resigning as president of the government-owned Philippine Forest Corp.
At the start of the press conference, Lozada read an opening statement, “Maraming katanungan ang taong bayan tungkol sa proyektong ito [ZTE-NBN]. Mabigat sa aking damdamin at isipan itong gagawin ko… para magkaliwanag na ang isipan ng bayan tungkol dito. …Walang malisya kanino man.”
[“There are many questions in the mind of the public about this project [ZTE-NBN]. It is with a heavy heart and mind that I will do this … to give light to the public’s mind about this. … This is without malice toward anyone.”]
Lozada also said his apparent disappearance upon his arrival at the Manila international airport Tuesday afternoon was a result of “just miscommunication between the groups that were supposed to pick me up.”
He said “we had a good drive around the city” and took the Luzon South Expressway, and went to Calamba City in Laguna province. He said he was later “brought back to my family.”
At the end of the press conference, Lozada said, “I want to be out of this situation. Believe me I do not want any other Filipino to be in my situation right now.
He also said, “I don’t want to go to the Senate. I don’t want to go there and be part of a political exercise … I may not be able to lie. I’m not a good liar. …The decision was to send me out of the country … I might say something that they would not like …the people who are concerned… ‘yung mga masasaktan ‘pag naipit si FG’ [First Gentleman].”
Senator Alan Cayetano, chairman of the Senate “blue ribbon” public accountability committee that is investigating the ZTE-NBN deal, said in a radio interview Thursday morning that they would ensure Lozada’s safety and security after the clergy agreed to turn him over to the custody of the Senate sergeant at arms.
Cayetano said they would consider Lozada’s physical and mental condition before scheduling a resumption of the Senate hearing on the ZTE-NBN deal.
Lozada earlier said he had been under undue stress since he left for Hong Kong and upon his arrival Tuesday and was already very tired over the ordeal.
As of this posting, a convoy of some 20 vehicles of the clergy and media people was proceeding to the Senate.
(Excerpt from the Inquirer)
They are all suckers! Pati Sendao mga hunghang! Legality wise, yes you are all good but in solving a CASE? THUMBS DOWN! Putang ina!