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Former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin S. Abalos Sr. has been acquitted of graft charges in connection with the $329-million National Broadband Network-ZTE deal in 2007.
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division found Abalos not guilty of violating Section 3(h) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act after the prosecution failed to prove his involvement in brokering the project with China.
“All in all, the evidence only proved that accused was brokering the collaboration between Amsterdam Holdings Inc. and China-based Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment Inc., where ZTE would supply equipment to AHI while AHI would contract with the Philippine government for the operation of the NBN,” the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division said in a decision penned by its Chairman Jose Hernandez and concurred in by Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Maria Cristina Cornejo.
“The prosecution was not able to establish that he (Abalos) brokered the signed contract between ZTE and the Philippine Government and that he did it for a fee,” it said.
The anti-graft court cited the case of Reyes versus Rural Bank of San Miguel in which the Supreme Court illustrated what constitutes brokering.
“As decided, brokering committed by the public official merited an administrative liability for violating Republic Act No. 6173, The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees under section 4 (A) (b),” the Sandiganbayan said.
Abalos admitted before the anti-graft court that he met officials of ZTE in Shenzhen, China more than seven times and played golf with them several times at the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City.
Prosecution witness Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, the son of former House Speaker Jose C. de Venecia Jr. and president of AHI, the company that lost its bid to ZTE for the NBN project, earlier testified that he was with Abalos in China and that he heard Abalos demand money from ZTE officials.
Records showed that at the time Abalos allegedly made the demand, witness De Venecia was working on his proposal for the NBN project and Abalos was pursuing him for collaboration.
“Months later, De Venecia eventually lost in his bid to get the approval of his proposal. Only then did De Venecia decide to make the disclosure in public. These circumstances put in question his motives as well as the accuracy of his statements,” the Sandiganbayan noted.
The Sandiganbayan indicated that while it was established that Abalos was present when ZTE officials met certain government officials – then Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves and Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro B. Mendoza – it was not established that he asked favors from them as regards to the signed contract in question.
Mendoza and ZTE Vice President Yu Yong entered into a $329-million contract for the project that was signed on April 21, 2007 in Hainan, China.
Following the emergence of irregularities, then President now reelected Pampanga Rep. Gloria M. Arroyo cancelled the project in October 2007. (Evelyn Quiroz)