Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Let's junk the NBN-CEP deals!

What’s in these controversial national broadband network and the cyber education project deals with China that’s keeping Malacañang from junking it?

By the way things are unfolding, it appears that the costs—political, social and economic—vis-à-vis their supposed benefits to the government and the people, are just too enormous. These projects are not worth the troubles and sufferings that it will cause the Filipino people and the Republic.

The political costs are just too staggering. The people know that they are going to pay more than $800 million (P37 billion) in the next 20 years for projects of dubious benefit to the country. Hence, pushing through with the project would only polarize the people further, setting us for another round of ruinous political instability.

More political storms might yet sweep the ruling party off Malacañang, thus causing uncertainties. Or worse, we might wake up soon seeing some adventurous elements in the military attempting another coup in the guise of “saving the Republic.”

The economic costs are just as tremendous. In the second quarter this year the Philippine economy grew by 7.5 percent after several years of growing within the relatively decent 5-percent to 6-percent band. The employment outlook had actually improved to register a 7.4-percent jobless rate after hovering at 8 percent in the last several years.

That trend means that the Philippine economy has actually started to produce gains for the ordinary man on the street (although many would say that they could still not feel it).

At the start of the year, Filipinos were actually hoping that the economy is going achieve a momentum based on the common expectation that the ruling party, seeking a good “legacy,” would be inclined to behave well in the last three years of the Arroyo administration. We may have to kiss this encouraging growth trend goodbye should the government insist on pushing through with the controversial deal.

Why? Political instability will turn off potential foreign investors. Uncertainty will force local companies to wait for 2010—when a new President is elected—before making any significant business decisions, implying that we won’t be able to produce more jobs that are sorely needed to address mass poverty.

The government, especially the executive branch, will be distracted from pursuing programs and projects needed for development. Public investments are going to be wasted as the exigencies of political survival are likely to be the main determinant in decision-making.

A lot of questions were raised following the bombshell of a testimony exploded by businessman Jose de Venecia III.

Did government officials, including Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza and former

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri take the money that was reported they got? What’s an Elections top official like Abalos doing in the business about broadband? And why is the President’s husband, supposedly a private citizen, involved in the deal? Did he also benefit from the supposed bribes? What’s Malacañang’s role in this mess?

Answers to these questions and possible denials by government officials in the now-unfolding top-rating Senate hearings will only spur more questions and speculations until it swamps the very halls of Malacañang. And it will only be Malacañang’s fault because from the very start—from its inception until this very moment—the involved officials really tried to hide the truth from the public, the same public who is going to shoulder the burden of paying the humongous loan from China.

The only solution is to junk those deals. That’s the only way the government can lessen the political and economic impact of this raging controversy. The deals are not worth the agony the people are going to suffer. Junking it now while the Senate is investigating the issue is the only sensible way to go.

It’s the only sensible option available to us—unless, of course, Joey de Venecia’s allegations about bribery are true. Because if indeed government officials in high places, especially the dwellers of Malacañang, did take the money, we are in deep trouble. It means the government is going to ram those sleazy deals down our throat at all cost. These officials are going to tough it out because the deals have become their private or personal wealth that we have guaranteed with our taxes in the next 20 years.

But we, the ordinary Filipinos, are not only going to pay it with our taxes. We are also going to pay it with our national sovereignty, or whatever is left of it. Because from now on, the threat of China’s exposing the people in high places who are involved in bribery would likely force these government functionaries to kowtow to Beijing.

We should not wonder, therefore, if in the next three years, these Philippine officials would behave like Chinese lapdogs.

The signs are not encouraging at this stage. A day after de Venecia’s testimony, Transportation Secretary Mendoza assured Beijing that the deal would push through—at all cost.

A new loyal subject sucking up to a new master?

(Note: I wrote this piece as editorial for BusinessMirror, 20 Sept 2007)

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