Many welcomed today’s resignation of Benjamin Abalos as powerful chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as what appears to be the new high point in the unfolding scandal that is the National Broadband Network (NBN) scandal.
Last week at the Senate, former socio-economic planning secretary and now Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri accused Abalos of trying to bribe him into favoring Chinese firm ZTE in the construction of a US$329-million NBN. Neri told the senators that he heard Abalos tell him during a golf game, amid chats about the NBN: “Sec, may 200 ka dito” (Secretary, you have 200 here). Neri told senators that Abalos clearly meant 200 million pesos.
Comelec spokesman and blogger James Jimenez posts Abalos’s resignation statement and capped it with a question/remark asked of him minutes after his now-former boss made the announcement on national television:
Can you say ’surprise move?’
The immediate reactions of journalists, at least those I saw reporting on ANC, was that of shock.
A blogger, Ideological Soup, did not mince words in a really scathing reaction to Abalos’s resignation statement:
I was extremely bowled over by Abalos’s resignation statement, more so when he mentioned the words “to clear my name and reputation.” His crusade to clear his already tainted name by his own wrongdoings is something beyond imagination. History will not be so kind to those who try to distort it. And reputation, this is something that you can’t buy, something that you can’t pay for, even if you bribe somebody for 200 million or 200 billion to grant you good reputation.
Even Comelec employees reportedly cheered and applauded Abalos’s resignation.
Oragon is skeptical. Apart from listing three implications of Abalos’s action, Oragon’s Renne Gumba says:
[T]he resignation may be viewed as a combination of legal strategy and political maneuver. The first would seek to provide a breathing space for Abalos, the latter would put a breathing space for political leaders implicated in the scandal.
Abalos’s resignation effectively stopped the efforts in the House of Representatives to impeach Abalos or, in other words, hold him politically liable, for his role in the NBN-ZTE scam.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) team blog thus smells a rat and dubbed Abalos’s act as no different from Richard Nixon’s.
In a conversation this afternoon with the mild-mannered and soft-spoken retired Court of Appeals Justice Santiago Javier Ranada, I brought up the subject and said “Well, now that he is no longer an impeachable official, he just untimely opened himself up to criminal prosecution.”
Justice Ranada said, “That may be true, but remember that resignation does not mean admission of guilt.”
Reeza also issues this warning:
Abalos’ persecutors still have a long way to go if they want his head on a platter. Abalos may yet turn out to be greatest strategist in all this, knowing full well that by rendering impeachment moot, any alleged wrongdoing on his part will have to be proved the hard way— beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal case before a fair and impartial court of justice— instead of the highly political and biased impeachment process.
Such cynical view is perhaps shared by many, considering the government’s track record. As I have previously pointed out, the Ombudsman may again fail the public’s expectation that criminal charges be pressed against Abalos immediately after he relinquishes his post, if we base it on what the agency has done regarding an earlier scandal that rocked the Commission on Elections which Abalos headed.
The Senate is expected to continue its inquiries, until the whole truth is laid bare. First Gentleman Mike Arroyo may be summoned by the chamber and, if he ignores the summons, may be arrested and forced to sit before the senators.
While there are now millions of Filipino netizens, only this minority may be able to understand what the NBN project is or what it hopes to achieve. Methinks it is a really good project to link together all government agencies, national or local, as well as schools and businesses. Similar projects have done wonders in other countries like Australia. The problem is that the government which aims to do it is so unpopular, graft-ridden and widely perceived to be inefficient and incompetent — so much so that the NBN project is now cursed as if by authorities’ reverse Midas touch.
For background info and latest news on the NBN, please visit the Inquirer’s NBN microsite. Tek 4 d Pipol gives an alternative, nay progressive, view on an NBN for the Philippines. Ditto for physicist Dr. Giovanni Tapang who reminds us:
Improving telecommunication services by using modern technologies, without corruption and foreign interests, will always be a welcome development for the people.