Strike While the Iron is Hot on NBN-ZTE Probe

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson today said the Senate hearings on the botched $329.5-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project can – and should – continue despite the absence of the chairman of the primary committee tasked to investigate the alleged anomalous deal. 

“Senate rules provide that a third of the committee’s membership can convene and call for a meeting. I am not going anywhere during the break, and I suppose at least one-third of the Blue Ribbon Committee members are staying behind. We should not allow ourselves to be held hostage by whatever agenda and personal reasons of the chairman for not convening the committee for a hearing on the ZTE scam,” Lacson said.

He said that even if the chairman were absent, there is the vice-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, and the chairmen of the two other committees jointly looking into the NBN deal.

Lacson also said that even if President Arroyo “killed off” the graft-riddled NBN deal, the public still deserves a “thorough autopsy report” on the “stinking” contract.

“It would betray public interest if we abruptly stop the hearings simply because there is no Blue Ribbon chairman to schedule the next hearing and in the midst of Malacañang’s efforts to control the damage and downplay the gravity of offenses committed in this NBN transaction,” Lacson said.

He said even the purported lack of interest from some government men, like former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) director general Romulo Neri and erstwhile Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos, to attend the next hearing should not hinder the Senate proceedings on the matter.

In light of Neri’s revelations during the Senate hearing last Sept. 26, Lacson said the additional testimonies of journalist Jarius Bondoc and businessman Jose De Venecia III should be heard.

“It is not correct to say that the hearings have become useless and long-winded. We need to hear more from Mr. Bondoc, Mr. de Venecia, Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico and other resource persons willing to shed light on this issue. With so many questions left unanswered and testimonies yet unheard, we must strike while the iron is hot,” Lacson stressed.

Also, Lacson noted that the Senate continued its investigation into the “Hello Garci” wiretap mess despite the pervasive lack of resource persons from the executive department, whom Malacañang gagged with an invalid executive order to avoid the hearings.

He expressed belief that not all has been told about the web of corruption spun by the government’s deal with the Chinese ZTE contractor for a national broadband network, despite the recent abrogation of the contract. “Given that this project is dead, it deserves a thorough autopsy,” Lacson said.

He added that further scrutiny of the NBN proposal would pave the way for a more viable and acceptable policy with regards to the matter, especially in view of Malacañang pronouncements that it would revive the NBN undertaking along with the Cyber Education proposal after the controversy subsides.