Life Lessons from The Senate NBN Deal Probe

Once in awhile, we do learn some things from people in government. This morning and up to this afternoon, I followed the hearings on the ZTE deal on television and it was like watching a telenovela.

It was entertaining to a certain extent, exasperating at times -- but when you think about it, if this is what happens with just one single contract, no wonder the country isn't moving forward.

Anyway, that being said, I did pick up a few points from watching the hearings which I am sure will come in handy someday, sometime:

1. There is always a diplomatic way of saying things. - Most of the time, people are usually offended by how we say something more than what was actually said. All the resource persons are supposed to be testifying under oath but all of them are giving different stories. When Chairman Abalos was asked if Secretary Neri was lying under oath when the latter talked about Abalos' alleged bribe offer to Neri, Abalos said "Yes." When Secretary Neri was asked if Chairman Abalos was lying under oath when he claimed that he made no such bribe, Secretary Neri responded by saying maybe Abalos merely does not recall.

2. When talking about amounts, the unit is extremely important. - Secretary Neri states that during a golf game, Chairman Abalos said: "Sec, may 200 ka dito" and that this was said while they were talking about the ZTE NBN deal. Secretary Neri then said that he understood it to mean P200 million and that he was being bribed in relation to the ZTE deal.

Unfortunately for Secretary Neri, the statement is unclear. 200 what? 200 pesos? 200 thousand? 200 golf balls, as Senator Ping suggested? Chairman Abalos has also harped on this, repeatedly stating that Neri does not even mention what the 200 means. Since this statement is unclear and since there is no unit involved, Chairman Abalos can always say that Neri misinterpreted, mis-heard, or misunderstood what he was talking about, if indeed, he did say it at all.

3. A poor memory can be the refuge of the guilty or the innocent. - All throughout the hearings, I repeatedly heard the statement, "I do not recall." or "I do not remember." It is human nature to only remember the things that we wish to dwell on. Blocking things we do not wish to recall can be an appropriate defense when pushed against the wall. You can always say you are not lying. You really forgot. That's why I like using planners and keeping journals. I document most of the things that happen and I can probably tell you, where I was on a certain day and what happened on that day. That is probably why I will never work in government for if they call me to a Senate hearing, I cannot say that I do not recall...

4. We choose the things that we spend our time on. - Everyone has a choice as to how to spend their time. We are never held hostage by anyone, unless we allow them to. I was particularly amused by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago's statements, especially her saying: "Sinasayang nyo ang oras ng Senado." (You are wasting the Senate's time.) I was further amused when she stood up and left the hearing after being given the chance to say her piece.

5. When in government, it is better to be without a friend. - From the hearings, I gather that Chairman Abalos has a lot of friends. He is friends with the ZTE officials, friends with the Zubiris, etc. He admits to going to China, admits to hosting dinner in relation to ZTE, admits to having met with several people with the Chinese and ZTE people but he says that he is not a broker or did not have anything to do with the ZTE deal. Let us say that he just happened to be around and that he was indeed just there as a personal friend. This situation then shows that a government official, if he wishes to avoid questions and negative perceptions should ideally be a hermit who will just attend to official business in relation to his government position and that's that.

6. When in a stressful situation, keep your sense of humor. - When Secretary Neri was asked about how he felt after Chairman Abalos supposedly said: "Sec, may 200 ka dito." he replied by saying that he was shocked. Upon being asked why he was shocked, he answered: "Medyo malaki ho." (The bribe was quite big.) I don't think he meant for it to come out funny but the audience laughed for it did sound funny. P200 million, if that's what was really meant, isn't an amount to sneeze at. The "medyo" was what I found particularly amusing.

The drama continues. As they say, when life gives you lemons -- make lemonade.

[By Angelica Viloria | Wednesday, September 26, 2007]

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