26 JUNE 2009

It smells like another ZTE-NBN in the making.

Makati Mayor and United Opposition (UNO) president Jejomar C. Binay said the “instant” diplomatic ties with Barbados – where the supplier for the billion-peso poll automatic project is based – and Mrs. Arroyo’s sudden side trip to Colombia remind him of a controversial side trip to Boao in Hainan, China in 2007.

“It’s like a rerun from a bad movie that we’ve seen before. The secret trip, the undue haste to sign an agreement, the alleged involvement of a Palace favorite, and a foreign company with a billion- peso contract in the Philippines ,” he said.

“Under the regime of Mrs. Arroyo, nothing happens by accident. The side trip to Colombia and the instant ties with Barbados are not spur of the moment decisions. Mrs. Arroyo needs to do some explaining when she returns,” he said.

Early this week, Mrs. Arroyo took a sudden detour to Cartagena , Colombia en route to Brazil . Palace officials and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) admitted they were not aware of the side trip.

Binay said such secrecy also attended Mrs. Arroyo’s unannounced visit to Hainan , China in the early morning of April 21 2007, to personally witness the signing of the ZTE-NBN deal.

A Malacanang press statement issued at that time – where Mrs. Arroyo was described as coming and going “like a thief in the night” – said the secret trip resulted in Chinese investments totaling $904.38 million.

The ZTE-NBN project was scrapped after a controversy involving overpricing and fat commissions reportedly given or offered to senior government officials and Mrs. Arroyo’s husband erupted.

“At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to ask, why Barbados , and why the rush to sign a diplomatic agreement with this island-state?,” he said.

The opposition leader said Mrs. Arroyo and her family appear to have been bitten by the Caribbean bug.

“Mrs. Arroyo seems to have been bitten by the Caribbean bug, and I wonder which of the attractions took her fancy. And I guess the taxpayers would also like to know what benefits would be derived by entering into diplomatic ties with Barbados and her side trip to Cartagena ,” he said.

Barbados , a known tax haven, is also where Smartmatic – the foreign supplier for the poll automation project – is based. Until now, the identities of the company’s investors have not been revealed, although it has been reported that a company owned by a businessman with links to the Palace will handle the warehousing and distribution of the machines.


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