Palace confirms Arroyo meeting with ZTE execs
met with officials of ZTE Corp. in for a “social lunch” five months before the firm won the contract fo r the $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN), Executive Secretary
“You can be very sure, I’m more than 100 percent sure that no such discussion ever happened during that social lunch in,” Ermita told reporters.
He said the President’s group, which included Speaker Jose de Venecia and Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., played golf and had lunch at the ZTE office.
The Executive Secretary contradicted the claim of a new witness in the Senate probe on the ZTE-NBN deal that Mrs. Arroyo had a secret meeting with ZTE officials.
“I think the witness cannot even say he was present when the ZTE contract was allegedly discussed.”
Asked if the President was surprised that Abalos had organized the golf game, Ermita said the media should not give too much meaning to Abalos’s presence during thevisit.
“I don’t suppose the President could immediately say that particular moment and ask him why you are here. Ibig sabihin ko wag nating bigyan ng sobrang credibility. If he went on his own, hindi naman siguro pwede sabihin ni President, ‘oy umalis ka dito’. Huwag naman nating masamain,” he said.
He said the meeting was not unusual in itself since Mrs. Arroyo regularly meets with potential investors in the Philippines.
Ermita’s statements confirmed claims made by a new ZTE-NBN witness that the President and Abalos met with ZTE officials a few months before the government approved the $329 million broadband deal with the state-owned firm.
It also bolstered the testimonies of ZTE-NBN witnesses Jose de Venecia III and former Philforest president Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. that the broadband deal was fraught with irregularities. De Venecia and Lozada earlier accused Abalos and the first gentleman of brokering the broadband deal for ZTE in exchange for multimillion-peso kickbacks.
The President canceled the ZTE-NBN deal last year after the Senate started investigating the issue.
In an exclusive interview, the new witness, identified as “Alex”, said the President’s group left the Four Seasons Hotel inon Nov. 2, 2006 at exactly 8:30 a.m. for the trip to .
He said the visit was kept a secret since there was no welcome banners at the boundaries of the two cities, which is the usual practice for state visits.
Alex presented pictures that showed Mrs. Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel, walking inside theGolf Club. The two were both looking up while Mr. Arroyo was holding an umbrella for the President.
Alex said Abalos was not in the picture since he went ahead to meet with the ZTE officials.
He added that the President’s group was given a grand tour inside the ZTE office before they were invited for a private luncheon meeting.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetanosaid he will reopen the Senate investigation on the broadband deal even as he urged Mrs. Arroyo to respond to Alex’s allegations.
“Isn’t it so simple for the President to say: Yes, I was there or No, I wasn’t there. Can’t she say whether the pictures were manufactured? So I demand that the President speak about these pictures and the testimony while we are preparing for the witness to come to the Senate and give his testimony,” said Cayetano in phone interview on ANC’s Dateline.
Cayetano told abs-cbnNEWS.com that he will immediately schedule the hearing as soon as the witness and Iloilo Vice-Gov. Rolex Suplico communicate with him.
“It’s just a matter of arranging security. It’s proper to arrange the security [for the new witness] first,” Cayetano said, referring to threats against people who testify on irregularities involving officials of the Arroyo administration.
Iloilo Vice-Gov. Rolex Suplico said the meeting is a clear violation of the anti-graft law.
“This was a secret trip, unscheduled, with no appointment. Even the border guards were surprised. A head of state secretly meeting with a supplier is a violation of the Anti-Graft Law.
He added that if there was nothing illegal about the meeting, why did the President keep it secret for so long?said Wednesday.In a press conference in Malacañang Palace, Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to the ZTE office in November 2, 2006 was part of her official schedule. He also denied that Mrs. Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, discussed the proposed broadband deal with ZTE executives during the meeting.
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