Abalos wraps up graft trial in NBN-ZTE deal

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THREE years after the case was lodged before the Sandiganbayan, former Commission on Elections chief Benjamin Abalos wrapped up his defense, signaling his graft case in the $329-million national broadband network is about to close.

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The defense camp rested its case in presenting its evidence in the botched telecommunications deal of the Philippines with Chinese firm Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp.

With only 21 documents and Abalos’ own defense testimony to offer, the camp of the former poll chief ended its day in the court.

After the prosecution rested its case in August 2012, the defense took its turn disputing the allegations.

Abalos took the witness stand on June 19, the final trial date, where he cleared his name in the alleged bribery of government officials to facilitate the bungled deal with the Chinese firm.

In the five-page formal offer of exhibits of Abalos, the defense presented documents and used it against the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses during cross-examination.

Defense lawyer Gabriel Villareal offered a Court of Appeal decision, details of which were not included in the offer, to prove the “propensity” of Jose de Venecia 3rd, son of the former House speaker and chief of the Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), a bidder in the NBN deal.

The appellate court decision was presented to prove that de Venecia has “the propensity to make and sensationalize random unfounded accusations in brokering for ZTE.

“These accusations [were]part of a pre-conceived vilification campaign aimed at compelling the government to scuttle the award of the NBN project to ZTE and award it instead to AHI,” the defense said.

The defense also offered a letter of a certain Ernesto Garcia to former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to prove that de Venecia’s AHI proposal was filed only in January 2007 “and not in December 2006.”

Abalos also asked the court to take in the transcript stenographic notes of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada’s cross-examination when the accuser took the stand.

The defense said that Lozada testified that he persuaded a third NBN project proponent to withdraw its proposal to only facilitate the proposals of AHI and ZTE.

“[Lozada is making] reckless yet unfounded accusations and is concocting stories and falsehoods which he will invariably attempt to disown and evade when confronted,” the defense said.

The defense also offered hardcopies of colored video presentation plates regarding the Davao Special Economic Zone.

Abalos said that he was only tapped by ZTE to assist in the establishment of an economic zone in Mindanao “and nothing as regards establishing a broadband network.”

The magistrates of the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division will give the prosecution a chance to oppose the defense’ evidence. The two parties are expected to submit their respective memorandum before the court takes it up for decision.

The case is Abalos’ solo graft charge related to the telecommunications deal, where he is implicated for violating Section 3 (h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

He, together with Mendoza, former President Gloria Arroyo, and her husband Jose “Mike” Miguel Arroyo, are facing a separate graft charge, which is already undergoing trial.

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