Last Thursday, Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico filed an impeachment complaint against Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos for allegedly brokering the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, after the bombshell revelations of Joey de Venecia and Romulo Neri that Abalos offered them hefty bribes for the deal to push through.
The impeachment complaint is significant in several ways.
First, it appears to be gaining the support of both opposition and administration members of the House. Among the first endorsers, in fact, were not only Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño and Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III, but also LDP stalwart and Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Isabelle Climaco.
Second, the Suplico complaint cited four out of the five possible constitutional grounds for impeachment – bribery, culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and graft and corruption. Suplico said he did not include the fifth basis – treason – only because we are not at war. This shows the extent of public indignation at the brazenness of the corruption that we are now seeing in the case of the NBN-ZTE scandal.
Third, it appears that the complaint has a very strong case, not only because of the credibility of the two testimonies by De Venecia III and Neri and the extensive documentation about the deal, but also because Abalos has not really denied the most basic and damning fact: that he was indeed helping facilitate the NBN-ZTE deal. As stated in the 1,300-page complaint, “Abalos, at the very least, admitted to allowing ZTE officials to ‘foot the bill’ of his unofficial trips to China, and the expenses he incurred in these trips, including those for golf.”
In short, this is one case where impeachment has a great chance of reaching the stage of Senate trial, and from there, the looming possibility of successfully kicking out a top official of a Constitutional body like the Comelec.
Some would like to throw cold water on the impeachment move, saying that Abalos is due to retire in February 2008 anyway, and the House may not have enough time to tackle the complaint and have it brought to Senate trial before he retires.
But this is a cynical, insulting, and idiotic argument that slaps all of us in the face. It is like saying that we should stop filing charges of rape against a man who violated his own daughter, since the man is due to permanently leave the household anyway.
If at all, the fact that Abalos will retire after five months should all the more stoke the fires in every self-respecting citizen and honest public official to pursue impeachment with utmost haste, so that the biggest culprits cannot get away on their so-called “golden parachutes” to enjoy their peaceful retirement.
Even if the impeachment case does not prosper as expected, the effort of further unearthing the details of the questionable NBN-ZTE deal will have been worth it, since these will be useful in filing criminal charges against Abalos when he retires.
Finally, there are rumors that Abalos is being set up as the scapegoat to draw unwanted fire away from GMA and the First Gentleman. If true, let us hope that Abalos “the scapegoat” will find it in his mind to finally divulge all he knows about the deal, and let the chips fall where it may.
In short, corrupt officials – however high they sit on the ladder of officialdom – must be taught a painful lesson that they cannot get away with brazen violations of law. And for GMA and her close coterie, the NBN-ZTE scandal is becoming a nightmare that refuses to go away, and is in fact closing in on them. #