, AUGUST 27, 2007 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - Filipinos are so morally degenerate that they sell their votes, Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos laments. He could be right.

But can anyone be more degenerate than a high Comelec official who lobbied for the ZTE deal for sex and money? As morality expert, Abalos can judge. That Chinese sale of an exclusive broadband setup for the Philippine government is of dubious need. Yet it would force Filipinos to pay $330 million for 20 years at 4-percent interest — to enrich instantly the Comelec official and his cohorts.

The Comelec official was in Shenzhen at least eight times from Sept. 2006 to Feb. 2007. He flew to that southern China city all expenses paid by ZTE Corp., China’s third largest telecoms maker owned 50 percent by generals. ZTE’s headquarters is in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, close to the flashiest hotels, restaurants and fairways.

The official enjoyed debauchery, but he covered it. In most trips, he first flew with his wife to Hong Kong. Leaving her to shop, he would then proceed by first-class train to Shenzhen. There, ZTE executives met him each time with gifts: two women, one for the day, the other for the night. He would take the women along to their golf games, meetings and cocktail-dinners, as if bragging of his sexual prowess.

ZTE execs feted the Comelec man like a king, for they needed something big from him. The firm had gotten wind of RP’s national broadband network and wanted to bag it. There were just two pesky little problems — two competitors with superior bids. But ZTE knew how to prevail in Philippine government contracting. That’s precisely why it befriended the high Comelec official. ZTE’s business style is to zip into a third world country with lots of money, looking for the most influential state official to buy off. In the NBN case, it was a man whom politicians from both the administration and the opposition would consider king during the election campaign.

The ZTE deal was conceived during “sexcapades” in high-class hotel rooms. Between “naps” of the Comelec official with the gift-woman of the moment, ZTE execs would discuss with him the delicate matter of project pricing. The first price broached was $262 million, a figure that the official tossed around his cohorts in Manila, and from which they stood to get $130 million in kickback. It did not matter that ZTE competitors were offering much less; bribery would be the key to get other officials cooperating. So for good measure, they upped the price to $330 million, with the kickback rising to $198 million. Quickly they shook on it, for the Comelec official was in a hurry to get back to his Chinese moll. At one point, an aide kidded him about his “stamina in bed.” Whereupon, the official pulled out of his pocket the secret of his “staying power”: long red pills billed as the Chinese version of Viagra. Warned of its harmful cardiac side effects, he just chuckled.

Mood swings marked the Shenzhen sorties. One meeting on Dec. 27 was particularly heated. The Comelec man wanted his share of the loot paid fully and in advance, and pounded his fist on the table to stress his point. Fang Yang, the female finance officer, just as adamantly stressed that they needed to see something in exchange for the $3 million they already had given him then. Another time, the hotel drinking spree of ZTE execs, the Comelec official and their dates simply got wild. Guests complained of the racket the official caused chasing his moll down the corridor.

Unknown to the Comelec man, expatriates working in Manila had spotted him in Shenzhen. Chinese competitors of ZTE too have complained to Beijing of its unfair means of bagging contracts. And Filipinos also saw him golfing and meeting with communications bureaucrats in Manila.

Incidentally, Ms Fang presently is in Manila for a make-or-break meeting with Beijing and Philippine officials. Yu Yong, the ZTE vice president who signed the stolen-but-reconstituted-but-secret contract with the Dept. of Transportation and Communications on Apr. 21 in Hainan, flew in with her Friday night. They were to negotiate Sunday with visiting Chinese Minister of Commerce Bo XiLai and Philippine finance managers the inclusion of the $330 million in Beijing’s priorities for lending.

Did Ms Fang meet with the Comelec official during the weekend? It’s said that she already had released another $2 million to him in May, and is about to deliver more.

And so Abalos may wish to determine which between vote selling or selling the country blind is more degenerate. Meanwhile, the ZTE contract was signed in Apr. at the height of the election period, when government officials are forbidden from awarding supply or construction projects. Does Abalos have an opinion at least on that?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved