It has been reported that a former cabinet official affirmed in court last month a P200 million bribe attempt in relation to the scrapped National Broadband Network. Testifying before the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo L. Neri said Benjamin S. Abalos, Sr., former Poll Commission Chairman, told him during a golf game in Mandaluyong City in 2009, “Sec [Secretary], you have 200 here”.
Asked by justices what the “200” meant, Mr Neri said: “My interpretation was it was P200 million given the size of the project. Project was big. It was $329 million. We were talking about the project even before that time”. As then Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, Mr Neri had to review the project with Chinese firm Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment Co. Ltd. Mr Neri testified in a graft case against Mr Abalos who allegedly brokered the project. Mr Abalos, who attended the hearing, but did not take the stand, claimed the charges were baseless.
Pleading not guilty to a separate corruption case on the same issue, Mr Neri was accused of having approved the deal despite knowledge of irregularities.
The project, which was supposed to link all government agencies via the Internet, has been cancelled after allegations of overpricing and corruption. Linked to the controversial deal were former President and now Pampanga Representative, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, who supposedly backed the deal. The Ombudsman, however, dropped the charges as the President was then immune from suit. Mr. Arroyo was also cleared. The court has ordered the Arroyos to testify on the case.