Now that the ZTE scandal has partly unfolded–with Sec. Neri’s “hanging” testimony–there are already glimpses of its eventual direction. It can only go up.
The Neri testimony has two seemingly logical and plausible points: One, that the ZTE broadband deal has for its primary backer Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Jr; and two, that the President herself knows of Abalos role (particularly in the attempt to bribe Neri with 200 (kilos of fish from the Abalos fishponds–sorry, can’t resist that one).
Neri testified that the President told him not to accept the bribe. He thought that may be sufficient to end the matter, even if it puts Abalos in hot water. However, he refused to elaborate or to testify on other conversations with the President regarding the ZTE matter, citing “executive privilege.”
Of course, this puts the Neri testimony on a continuing downslide thereafter as senators expectedly try to elicit the information behind the “executive privilege.” Many do not believe he told the other half of the truth, may be not even the truth he told–primarily because of his own hypes before the Senate testimony. It is also a glaring inconsistency when he readily volunteered the fact of his talk with the President regarding the Abalos bribe, but not the other talks on the ZTE matter itself.
However, we can already glimpse something from the Neri testimony. One, there is definitely the BIG ONE in terms of information hiding behind the “executive privilege.” Two, there are possibly others–more powerful and far more vulnerable–deeply involved in the ZTE scandal. Three, the ZTE scandal has implications that go to the heart of the survival of the GMA administration and ruling coalition–possibly more than the Garci tapes scandal itself.
Secretary Neri is protecting not only the President but an entire arrangement regarding Chinese investments and loans in the Philippines. The arrangement, I think, stinks to high heavens. It is too early to say but there are certain implications already on Philippine national security, the government’s “special relations” with the United States, Philippine sovereignty and national patrimony, violations of the Constitution, and sectoral concerns.
Senator Miriam Santiago is partly correct when she raised the observation that it is all a “squabble over kickbacks.” After all, at the heart of it all is the purported availability of some $18 billion dollars for Chinese investments and loans for the Philippines–a sum approaching, if not surpassing, the money available during the Marcos one-man rule. Senator Mar Roxas himself said the ZTE deal seems to be a “supply-side” decision–meaning the availability of the Chinese money preceded the project. However, as the ZTE drama unfolds, it is slowly becoming clear that what is at stake is the survival of the GMA administration itself.
Given the situation that she failed to reconcile with the opposition after the 2007 elections, that she still does not have any agreement with any or all of the presidentiables, and that there is the inability (for the present) to force a martial rule, GMA is running a clear risk of going down even before the 2010 term ending. The clock is running out on her, with diminishing influence over events as perceptions increase over her lame-duck presidency. The ruling coalition does not have a viable presidentiable at this time, cannot absorb the pressures, and may disintegrate well before 2010.
The ZTE scandal may well be the Waterloo of the Arroyo presidency.