IT appears that former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor is back in harness, playing his old, familiar role as defender of the Arroyo administration.

The public will remember Defensor for his daring rescue of a Senate witness, Eugenio ‘Udong’ Mahusay Jr., who was about to testify on the alleged Jose Pidal secret back account of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo back in 2003. The last time, he was heard remarking “It’s the president’s voice but it’s not the president speaking” in an attempt to discredit the “Hello, Garci” recordings, even trying to convince the people that the “Yung dagdag, yung dagdag” utterances by a female voice resembling that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s were actually “Galban, Binalbag” — whatever those were.

This time, Defensor, the defeated administration senatorial candidate in the 2007 elections and currently without official designation, has again been implicated in an apparent government conspiracy to silence a key witness in the ongoing Senate blue ribbon committee investigation on the scrapped national broadband network (NBN) project. The project, awarded to the Chinese firm, ZTE Corporation, has been tainted with allegations of bribery and overpricing.

No less than Rodolfo Noel ‘Jun’ Lozada, in his testimony last Friday, pointed to Defensor as having asked him to come out in the media to publicly deny that he was taken against his will when he arrived from Hong Kong late afternoon of Tuesday.

Lozada said it was Defensor who told him Tuesday night, when he paid him a visit at the La Salle Greenhills campus dormitory, to hold a press conference wherein he would issue a statement denying his “abduction” and any knowledge and involvement in the NBN project. Defensor, Lozada said, even suggested the names of GMA Network broadcast journalist Mike Enriquez and another female journalist whose name he couldn’t recall during the hearing (later confirmed by Defensor to be Marites Vitug, Newsbreak editor and a member of the PCIJ board of editors).

Pumunta po si Mike nung gabi na ‘yun. Sabi sa akin ni Mike, ‘Pare, this thing has grown way, way out of proportion.’ Sabi ko, ‘Oo nga, Mike, hirap na hirap na ‘ko rito. Sinabi ko naman sa inyo simula’t-sapul pa ayokong ma-involve diyan,'” narrated Lozada during his testimony.

Sabi niya, ‘Di bale, ‘di bale. Gagawan natin ng paraan ‘yan…Pwede bang tumawag ka na ngayon sa media?’ Either si Mike Enriquez…sino pa ba ‘yung babaeng broadcaster? Hindi ko matandaan. ‘Tumawag ka na. Just make a statement na hindi ka naman talaga kinidnap. Na wala ka naman talagang alam dito,'” he continued.

Lozada also disclosed that Defensor, whom he acknowledged to be a personal friend, handed him an envelope, which he later learned contained P50,000. “Panggastos (for your expenses),” was how he said Defensor described the offer. He returned the money to Defensor yesterday at the continuation of the Senate’s NBN hearing.

Appearing before the Senate yesterday, Defensor admitted that he gave Lozada the amount, but as a gesture of one helping a friend in need, and not as a “bribe.” He initially denied that it was his idea that Lozada come out publicly to deny that he was kidnapped and his involvement in the NBN deal, but later corroborated Lozada’s statements.

Now that he is in the private sector, Defensor also expressed hope that he would no longer be called to appear in the Senate after testifying at yesterday’s hearing. To which Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the blue ribbon committee, jestingly replied that so long as he wouldn’t be involved in “rescuing” future witnesses of the Senate, he’d be fine.

But more than his latest “intervention” in Lozada’s case, Defensor should also be made to explain how he got himself involved in the process that led to the award of the NBN supply contract to ZTE.

Defensor’s name appears on page 37 of the 39-page contract that was signed on April 21, 2007 in Baoa, Hainan Province in China between Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Leandro Mendoza and ZTE Vice President Yu Yong.

The pertinent paragraph, which falls under the preconditions listed in order for the contract to take effect, reads as follows:

41.12.4 The ratification by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China of the Executive Agreement evidenced by the letter dated 02 December 2006 of Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun to Presidential Chief of Staff Michael T. Defensor relating to the NBN Project and the letter of NEDA Secretary dated 20 April 2007 addressed to Honorable Minister Bo Xilai, Ministry of Commerce and Honorable Li Ruogu, Chairman and President, of the Export-Import Bank of China, People’s Republic of China nominating the NBN Project. (underscoring ours)

Defensor wrote a letter to the Chinese minister of commerce on November 21, 2006, inquiring and verifying “the interest of Chinese companies in arranging financing facilities and providing technical support for the development and implementation of the Philippine Government’s national broadband network and distance learning project.”

In response, the Chinese government, through Ambassador Li Jinjun’s letter dated December 2, 2006, committed to provide a preferential buyers credit financing support through the China Exim Bank to support the NBN Project. The Chinese ambassador also mentioned that ZTE Corporation was designated as the project’s prime contractor.

Referring to this letter, then socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri wrote Minister Bo Xilai and Exim Bank President Li Ruogu endorsing the NBN Project for a loan financing by the Chinese government under the Bank’s preferential buyers credit facility.

These letters constituted the “exchange of notes” that became the basis of an Executive Agreement covering the NBN project. A Department of Justice opinion rendered in July 2007 upheld that such correspondences between Defensor and the Chinese government officials “may be considered as an executive agreement,” citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Abaya vs. Ebdane (G.R. No. 167919, February 14, 2007). This, however, is subject to a concluded loan agreement between the Philippine government and China Exim Bank.

Curiously, the SC decision cited the definition of an “exchange of notes” under international law as follows:

a record of a routine agreement that has many similarities with the private law contract. The agreement consists of the exchange of two documents, each of the parties being in the possession of the one signed by the representative of the other. Under the usual procedure, the accepting State repeats the text of the offering State to record its assent. The signatories of the letters may be government Ministers, diplomats or departmental heads. The technique of exchange of notes is frequently resorted to, either because of its speedy procedure, or, sometimes, to avoid the process of legislative approval. (underscoring ours)

If that were the case, how did Defensor come into the picture and where did his authority come from?

As earlier reported in the media, Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and the NEDA were the ones already in contact with ZTE until Defensor wrote his letter to the Chinese minister of commerce. At least for Favila, he had a “special authority” from Arroyo, granting him “full powers” to “negotiate, conclude and sign, for and on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines” the award of investment projects, including the “nationwide government broadband communication project,” to ZTE International Investment Corporation, a sister company of ZTE Corporation.

Professor Leonor Briones of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) says Defensor did not have executive powers to enter into negotiations, even if only preliminary, for loans to be contracted by the government.

“The practice is that it should be the Secretary of the Department of Finance or the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor who negotiates, with the executive coming in only to sign the loan documents,” the former national treasurer says, adding that this was the first time she heard a chief of staff engaging in negotiations for foreign loans, and bilateral at that.

As presidential chief of staff, Defensor may have been of Cabinet rank and enjoyed the emoluments of a Cabinet secretary, as stipulated in Administrative Order No. 138 issued by Arroyo in January 2006. But the AO limited his roles and functions to primarily three areas: care for the President, as policy adviser, and as presidential advocate.

Caring for the President entailed controlling Arroyo’s schedule; assuming the role of principal manager of her trips/activities/engagements; ensuring focus on agreed themes of Presidential activities, and controlling access to her.

As policy adviser, Defensor was tasked with providing good, wise and honest counsel on important matters of policy and politics; reviewing papers sent to Arroyo; and acting as vice chairman of Malacañang’s Strategic Management Team chaired by the Executive Secretary.

As presidential advocate, he was expected to spearhead the President’s strategic policy and program initiatives; build and maintain “bridges” with critical stakeholders (Cabinet, Congress, Judiciary, private sector, lobbyists, etc.); and guard Arroyo’s interests and protect her from forces that could destroy her administration.

A “catch-all” provision also called on Defensor to perform other functions that may be directed by the President.

“Even so, I cannot imagine the ‘chief clerk’ of the President doing that. Executive Secretary pa siguro. It’s just unimaginable,” says Briones. “Sobrang mabigat yung responsibility (The responsibility is so enormous). And he’s not even of the same rank as the Chinese minister.”

3 Responses to Defensor has more to explain about NBN deal

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aderf

February 12th, 2008 at 8:24 pm

i really cant imagine how mike turned out to be the person he is now? i was told he was really idealistic during his days at UP, whatever happened to him?i can only pity the guy and his wife for the way their life turned out to be.They may have all the money and power at their disposal but God does not see and treat us that way.Im sure he knows the adage “to those much is given much is expected”God has given him enough intelligence for his former prof at UP to remember him and tap him for key position in the government and yet he is using the blessing he has not for truth, justice and for the benefit of the common good, which God may have in mind when He decided to bless him with those gifts.Talk about the evil effects of money and power.

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jimpot

February 13th, 2008 at 2:55 am

Mr Defensor really he don’t talk to madam that much instead he’ll talk to FG ………….pls peoplethe truth is FG is trying to manipulate all people that surround him,,,, and uses his wife credebility as a president.he don’t mine at all coz iknow he’d already have money all over the world that u don’t know about..mahusay lozada all they do to them now is to milk the process as long as they have the power of doing it ,,,as soon as the Arroyo Step down hopefully they’ll continue this and find out the truth so help us giude to evic currupt people and politician out of pilipinos mind and betrue to our selfmore for the better phillipines………………..

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