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Salceda urges gov’t to pursue national broadband network project shelved during Arroyo time

House Ways and Means panel chairperson Joey Salceda on Wednesday called on the Marcos administration to pursue the National Broadband Network (NBN) project, an initiative with Chinese firm ZTE shelved during the Arroyo administration amid allegations of overpricing.

During the general membership meeting of the Philippine Retailers Association where he was invited as guest, Salceda said the NBN project will be the Maharlika Highway of the digital age.

“The bridge that will carry our workers and businesses from one end of this changing landscape to the other is training and innovation. We need to uptrain workers. We need to innovate businesses,” Salceda said.

“To that end, I have been championing the reactivation of the National Broadband Network project. If we pursued it in 2006, it would have been so much cheaper and we could have been ahead of the curve. Shelving it was a policy mistake. It would be foolish to continue paying for that mistake by delaying this essential infrastructure project,” Salceda added.

In April 2007, the Philippine government signed a $329-million contract with Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project.

The project, however, was scrapped in October that same year amid allegations the deal was overpriced. 

Then-National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief Romulo Neri had alleged that then-Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. offered him P200 million supposedly in exchange for the approval of the NBN project.

Abalos’ graft case over the project, however, was eventually dismissed by the the Sandiganbayan in 2016. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2021. 

But Salceda, who served as an economic adviser of former President now House Senior Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, maintained that shelving the project was a mistake and the initiative was meritorious.

“It (NBN project) will unlock business innovations. It will create new digital jobs, especially for freelancers. I want these jobs created because they could become the biggest consumers of online retail," he said.

"They make money in dollars, but stay at home for work, so they need to buy from you online. And they have the spending money to do so. Most crucially, the NBN will expand access for both consumers and resellers – the key to retail growth,” Salceda added.

The NBN project, Salceda said, is also key to easing of tax payments and other processes for retailers.

He cited the possible shift to an electronic invoicing system, which would make claiming VAT refunds and completing tax requirements for small businesses easier.

Salceda also highlighted that under the Ease of Paying Taxes Act which he principally authored, taxpayers will be able to file and pay taxes “anywhere in the world.”

“To maximize these new innovations in government service, you need a national broadband network that provides cheap, reliable internet services for the country’s small businesses,” Salceda said. — RSJ, GMA News