Olongapo Telecom & Information Technology

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NTC exec unceremoniously told to resign

By Tony Bergonia - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Abraham Abesamis was sitting at his desk in his office at the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Thursday when an unexpected guest came in to deliver a message that caught him by surprise -- he should resign.

Joaquin Llagunera, head of the Presidential Legislative-Liaison Office (PLLO) and deputy executive secretary, did not give a reason for Abesamis’ sacking as NTC commissioner, but his instructions were it was ASAP -- as soon as possible.

Abesamis was not told why -- it was apparently not part of Llagunera’s mission that day to answer that question.

There was no written order, but it came from the highest official of the land -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Abesamis was asked to immediately empty his desk of his things, to pack up and leave quickly.

At a loss for words and in search for answers, Abesamis lifted his phone and dialed the number of Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

But there were no answers from Mendoza, either. The official who had jurisdiction over the NTC had no idea Abesamis was being removed.

Next, Abesamis tried to call Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, with the same results.

Why, why, why, the question rang in his mind after Llagunera had left him dumbfounded and clueless.

He called up officials in Malacañang to try to arrange an audience with Arroyo, but the meeting did not come until Friday morning when he heard the bad news from the President herself.

He was just told to resign. The “why” was left unanswered. But Abesamis took his marching orders “like a good soldier.”

Abesamis was a senior military aide of Arroyo for two years prior to his appointment at the NTC. At the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he was deputy chief of staff for communications.

It was not made clear why he was being removed from the NTC, a quasi-judicial body that oversees the operations and pricing of telecommunications firms and monitors abuses.

But the appointment of his replacement came quickly.

From the office of the adviser on political affairs, Undersecretary Ruel Canobas, a lawyer, was pulled out.

The papers for Canobas’ appointment as NTC head were quickly prepared and processed.

Abesamis’ relief from the NTC came as a surprise to his fellow officials and workers at the agency, but the bigger surprise was Canobas’ appointment.

Malacañang sources said one of Canobas’ tickets to the NTC appointment was his close relationship with Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. and other officials of the administration party Lakas.

“He’s a Lakas operative,” said a Malacañang official.

Officials and workers who took part in running the campaign of the administration senatorial ticket Team Unity (TU) remembered Canobas for putting together the TU’s plan to saturate the country’s voting precincts with sample ballots to increase the TU’s chances of winning.

Canobas, according to another official who worked under Political Affairs Adviser Gabriel Claudio, was the one in charge of printing millions of sample ballots for TU.

An official of the administration party Lakas said the original plan for the TU was to print sample ballots containing the names of TU candidates at a ratio of four per voter.

“It was a saturation campaign,” said the Lakas official, who asked that he not be identified for fear of retaliation from party leaders and Malacañang officials.

For still unclear reasons, however, the ratio became just one sample ballot per voter.

At least P80 million was spent for the printing of the sample ballots.

When he received the message about his resignation, Abesamis was presiding over a plan that could further open up the telecommunications market to new players.

On his table lay what NTC officials said was an interconnection template that would set the terms, and fees, for new and smaller telecommunications firms to be able to connect to the bigger players like Philippine Long Distance Telecommunications Co., Smart and Globe.

Its objective was simple: Keep the smaller players alive by allowing calls made from their networks to connect to lines owned by the big ones, and set a fixed fee for this.

The bigger telecommunications firms had described it as a move that would “penalize bigness.”

Pressure is heavy on the NTC not to implement the interconnection template and another policy that would add more obligations to the bigger players.

“Consumer welfare, that’s the main goal,” of the two policies, according to an NTC consultant.

The NTC change of leadership also came at a time when the government appeared bent on carrying out a national broadband network (NBN) that a firm owned by De Venecia’s son was vigorously opposing.

Amsterdam Holdings Inc., owned by Jose de Venecia III, failed in its bid to build at no cost to the government a broadband backbone that would have the government as its main, but not exclusive, client.

Instead, Chinese firm ZTE Corp. bagged a $329-million contract to build the NBN, leaving AHI officials holding an empty bag.

Abesamis stayed out of the debate over whether the NBN project was a good move on the part of the government.

Among close friends, he expressed objections to the project since he saw no need for it. Two UP economic professors made a similar stand in a paper they prepared on the NBN.

But why put a Lakas lieutenant close to De Venecia on top of the government agency that would play a key role when the NBN goes online?

“It’s just politics,” said one Malacañang insider.

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