, OCTOBER 8, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The suspension of the Department of Education’s $460-million Cyber Education Project may be lifted anytime soon.

This, after President Arroyo ordered a special panel to work out procedures to insulate the project from controversies and political intrigue.

Mrs. Arroyo bared her directive to the China Projects Oversight Panel in a statement upon her arrival from a five-day visit to China and India late Saturday.

She also expressed her continuing disappointment in suspending the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project due to the controversy over the government’s deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

While in China, Mrs. Arroyo met with President Hu Jintao and told him of her painful decision to scrap the deal with ZTE.

“The China Projects Oversight Panel should now begin working out procedures to protect the Cyber Education Project from unnecessary controversy, so that world-class ICT (information and communications technology) would reach fourth to sixth class municipalities and the least endowed schools,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo formed the panel last week after suspending the NBN project, together with the CyberEd project, amid allegations of bribery and overpricing surrounding it.

Following two suits against the ZTE deal, the Supreme Court last month issued a temporary restraining order on the NBN project.

Mrs. Arroyo, though, did not explain why she ordered the CyberEd project’s suspension even when it was not subject to any lawsuit or Senate investigation as compared to the ZTE-NBN issue.

The special panel is headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila with Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. and Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde as members.

“We believe we have further strengthened our robust ties with China by clarifying recent developments related to the massive Chinese assistance for our infrastructure program,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“We are grateful that China remains committed to our confident, mature and comprehensive relations. We have asked for China’s understanding on our decision not to continue the national broadband network project,” she said.

The President reminded Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza to discuss with private telecommunication companies on how the government can cut its phone, fax and online expenses “so we can spend more on programs and projects.”

“And once again we urge the private sector to fill the gaps in telecommunication facilities and services, especially in depressed areas. Whether government or business, we must invest in digital infrastructure to link the entire country all the way to the poorest villages,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

In a statement, Malacañang said the CyberEd project utilizes satellite technology to provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to deliver educational services to public elementary and secondary schools throughout the country.

The project links schools to a nationwide network that provides 12 video channels, wireless wide area networking, local area networking and wireless Internet connectivity.

Under the CyberEd project, a total of 37,794 schools, or 90 percent of all public schools nationwide, would be connected in the next three years.

These schools would receive live broadcasts featuring lectures and presentations from master teachers as well as courseware on demand and other valuable resource materials.

The technology – a satellite-based distance learning – is widely used in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Thailand, India, Indonesia and China.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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