It initially came out in the newspapers as an ordinary big-ticket infrastructure project that incidentally fell under the IT domain. But early on, members of the local IT community already sensed that there was something wrong with the fact that the government was going to an area that is better--and should be--left to the care of the private sector.
That bullheadedness in pursuing the National Broadband Network (NBN) project ultimately exploded on the government's face, with tales of high-level corruption and illicit sex grabbing the public's attention and eventually leading to a legislative probe.
The US$329-million broadband deal has already been scrapped by Pres. Gloria Arroyo, perhaps much to the chagrin of China's ZTE, which may have already invested some resources just to clinch the contract.
I had initially planned to title this piece "IT man on the run" to refer to Rodolfo Noel "Jun" Lozada Jr., the so-called star witness who once again put the NBN issue in the headlines due to his alleged personal knowledge of the illegal transactions involving high government officials.
Since bursting on the scene, Lozada has had a dizzy ride outside and inside the Philippines, including his supposed kidnapping by the military from an airport tube upon his return from Hong Kong, and the holding of a pre-dawn press conference where he spilled on the beans on the anomalous transaction. Last Friday (Feb. 8), he formally told a Senate committee hearing that "greedy" government executives demanded huge kickbacks amounting to US$130 million.
I had planned to update this blog even before Lozada returned from his Hong Kong trip, but like the rest of the population, I was also riveted by the day-by-day developments that were unfolding before the public eye.
Prior to being hurled into the limelight, Lozada was a member of the local government as president of Philippine Forest, an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. But before that, he served as a technical consultant to former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri on the now-tainted broadband project.
Some seven or eight years back, I had the chance to interview Lozada who was then a top official of an online education integrator, called NetCurricula. He was a talkative tech guy who relished discussing technology to his audience. I don't easily remember the faces of IT executives whom I get to meet in the course of my work, but for some reasons, Lozada left an impression on me.
Despite his gift for glib, perhaps because of his job as a sales person, I didn't quite feel the sincerity in what he was talking about. But I felt the guy had the drive and shrewdness to go far in the business. Though it didn't go exactly that way, he landed the IT consultancy job working for Neri.
Honestly, I don't feel glad that an IT guy is involved in this huge mess, which I originally thought was the handiwork of politicians, as usual. Heck, this unfortunate tragedy has already given the IT sector here a black eye. But Lozada's admission that he erred in giving technical advice and in involving himself in backroom dealing, is still better than saying nothing at all.
I particularly like the statement he made during his testimony at the Senate in which he criticized the government's faulty procurement system. Big projects such as the NBN-ZTE broadband deal, he said, are being decided by people like him and not through a transparent process.
He's right. It's high time the procurement process be completely done through a computerized platform with no human intervention. Humans are simply no match to temptations that come in the form of dollars.