Column: How NOT to read Lozada’s testimony

It is 8:22 pm as I write this, and the Senate hearing is on its 10th hour and shows no sign of slowing. Let me upload my column for tomorrow, just for the heck of it. It can be read, I suppose, as a cautionary word against a partisan rush to judgment.

To be published February 12, 2008

In the end, Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. chose the more difficult path. We dishonor his sacrifice — however reluctantly he may have made it — if we imagine him saying what we want him to say.

I am not sure, for example, whether we got the story right about the ZTE broadband deal’s possible impact on a low-cost housing project for the military and police. Under questioning by Sen. Panfilo Lacson in last Friday’s hearing, Lozada said the following: “Alam ko natanggal ang housing [I know that the housing project was removed].” He also said: “It’s a matter of fact [that] in the original list of projects there is a housing project but in the subsequent list involving the $1.1-billion package from China, the housing and Angat [Water Dam] projects were missing.”

Sounds categorical, but in fact Lozada did not directly state, and did not even offer to prove, that funds for the housing project had been diverted to the controversial national broadband network. Comb through the reports of the Senate hearing last Friday, and the most we get from Lozada is speculation. “Isa ho yata yon sa nasagasaan [It’s probably one of those affected],” he said.

This is not to say that the housing project for soldiers and policemen was not in fact a casualty of the unmoderated greed that seemed to have consumed the NBN contract — only that Lozada did not have direct knowledge of any such diversion.

The distinction is important, because Lozada’s undoubted credibility as a witness lies precisely in his continuing effort to make distinctions.

Consider Lozada’s confirmation of the P200-million bribe Benjamin Abalos, then the chairman of the Commission on Elections, reportedly offered Romulo Neri, then the socio-economic planning secretary. Answering a question from Sen. Loren Legarda, Lozada took pains to note that his knowledge of the bribe was not based on Neri’s recollection of the offer. (It goes without saying that Neri must have told him, some time after it happened.)

His knowledge was personal, Lozada said. It was based on a personal encounter with Abalos, at the Wack-Wack Golf Club, on the way to the locker room. With his arm around him, an ebullient Abalos told him he would release the P200 million for Neri as soon as the advances cleared. This is confirmation, not speculation.

Or consider the question about what President Macapagal-Arroyo allegedly told Neri after he reported Abalos’ P200-million bribe offer. Lozada declined to answer, even though Neri had told him about that crucial conversation. He had told me in confidence, and I wish to respect that, Lozada said, in so many words. (Inquirer.net has an excellent “running account” of the Senate hearings — it is “liveblogging,” for all intents and purposes, but held to journalism’s usual standards.)

I realize that Lozada had suggested, in an open letter or article written last year but released by the Black and White Movement only recently (and easily available online, say on PinoyPress.net or Ellen Tordesillas’ popular blog), that one of the reasons Neri allegedly refused to return to the Senate was that continued probing would unearth this potentially politically damaging diversion of funds. One passage in that letter read: “When he [Neri] tried to reason [with President Arroyo] that it [the NBN project, now repackaged as a loan] may not be accommodated in the Chinese ODA [official development assistance] package because it has been filled up with a list of projects already, Arroyo again ordered him to remove the low-cost housing project and some water project to accommodate the ZTE-NBN deal in the ODA loan.” But an open letter is one thing, sworn testimony is another.

We still have to hear from Lozada whether he stands by his letter, or whether he had in fact written it. (I have no reason to doubt Enteng Romano, who says Lozada handed him the letter, but skepticism is a journalistic virtue.) Indeed, if I read that letter correctly, it is essentially saying that Neri was and still is afraid to testify in full not because regime change will happen BUT BECAUSE IT WON’T. (Insert, at this point, Lozada’s gratuitous remarks about a feckless civil society, a corrupt opposition or a clueless Cardinal Archbishop of Manila.)

But this much is clear, at least to me: The allegations about the low-cost housing project for the AFP and PNP are not in fact Lozada’s. Surely someone who can make a distinction between “under duress” and “against my will” deserves to be heard on his own.

* * *

THE AUDACITY OF BEING JACK KENNEDY. Sen. Barack Obama does not compare himself to John F. Kennedy, but his supporters make the comparison all the time. He has the soaring eloquence, and the capacity to inspire crowds. But does he have the killer instinct? A passage from Theodore H. White’s 14-part series in the Saturday Review in 1960 (which became the basis of “The Making of the President 1960”) reminds us that there was steel inside Kennedy’s velvet glove.

“’Jack,’ said one of his aides recently, ‘has the FDR instinct; when he gets into a fight, the instinct is to kill, not to wound. He wants to be President in the worst damned way. Being President is a tough business, not a panty-waist business.’ And, if the business of becoming President is akin to the business of being President, the inner style of this campaign, not its outer eloquence, is the perspective Kennedy offers the voters.”

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Column: How NOT to read Lozada’s testimony

  1. ausone88

    What or Who was the Threat to Lozada – Lozada’s “Security” did not know?

    One of the most striking things about yesterday’s hearing was the inability of Gen Atutubo and Paul Mascarinas to answer the question “What or who were they supposed to be protecting or Lozada from?”

    When both were asked if they had asked their superiors this question, both replied that their simply was not enough time.

    However, Mascarinas was with Lozada from about 4:30 pm – 10:30 pm on the day he picked Lozada up from the airport. He also said that he was realying and updating information on Lozada’s whereabouts during the 6 hours they drove Lozada around.

    Didn’t Mascarinas then ask his superiors during that time what or who it was they were protecting Lozada from?

    Besides, if they claim that there simply was no enough time…how long does it take to say…”Keep him (Lozada) away from the Senate, the media, his family and from Abalos”

  2. Enrico Navea

    At first I, believe with Lozada but yesterday’s hearing made me rethink my faith with him.

    I found it unrealistic that he did not even made a scene when he and his “abductors” passed through the pre-departure area. Why not say “Hey I am being kidnapped, please call media or the priest or whoever!”. Where in the world can you find a kidnapped person were allowed to use his mobile phone?

    Another thing, he is already with the La SAlle brothers and nuns, why did he went to Atty. Bautista with his “Abductors”, the next day? Is there a script being followed by Lozada and cohorts? The nuns are there to protect him. We have seen in TV how OA they protect him. And yet, they allowed the “abductors” to brought him to his “supposed” lawyer. Is the script not yet complete?

  3. The lacking piece in the ZTE puzzle would be Romulo Neri. He says it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the matters he will be testifying to are covered by the so-called executive privilege.

    If the Supreme Court says, “Go ahead Mr. Neri. Spill the beans!”, then that might signal the feginning of the end of this bogus and corrupt regime.

  4. Mylene

    John,
    decided to check in with you regarding the Lozada expose’. You consistently deliver a savy reading of the day’s political events, conscientously even methodically separating fact from conjecture. Your opinions are rather dispassionately given, which I prefer. Given the fact that we as a people are so into the politics of politics. I won’t venture an opinion on Lozada though. I keep thinking . . . again? Are we truly the sickman of Asia? Oh, did I mention that if (god forbid I ever write about politics) I’d try to emulate your style. Thanks for making it easy for me to get a grip on what’s happening.

  5. rizalista

    Mga kababayan hindi ko na makayanan ang panguuto ni Jun Lozada! Niloloko lang tayo at pinaglalaruan ni Jun Lozada na yan! Gustong gusto nya ang atensyon na ipinapataw sa kanya ng mga tao ngayon at mga nauuto nyang mga rallyista at noise barrage mga estudyante… Inadmit ng kapatid nya na IDOL LANG NYA SI JOSE RIZAL… Matagal din nyang pinagplanuhan ang lahat kung paano sya maging isang bayani na mapapansin ng buong bansa… Nabiktima niya at nauuto ang mga taga Gobyerno lalong lalo na si Sec. Atienza. Wala naman talaga syang pakialam sa ZTE deal… Pakana lang ito lahat ni LACSON.. Nag meet na sila December pa lang at Bago tumestigo si Lozada e may in-author si LACSON para maprotektahan ang isang witness sa SENADO. Pinalala lang ito ng MEDIA – Radio Print at TV. Tingnan nyo na lang ang akting nya sa SENADO na lagi lumalaki ang MATA.. ANG mga tusong NGITI nya pag nalaman nyang marami na syang taga suporta! Sa loob loob nya ay HIGH na HIGH ang Feeling nya ngayon dahil ang dami nyang nauuto at sikat na sikat pa sya ngayon! WALANGHIYA ngayon lang ako magkokomento sa mga Blog o forum at paalala lang sa mga NABUBULAG ng mga diskarte ni LOZADA, MAGSIMULAT KAYO! Sa dami ng mga kinamkam ni Jun Lozada bilang Chair ng Philforest at pinamahagi sa mga kapatid nya, kailangan nyang magtagumpay upang hindi ito mabisto o mabawi sa kanya. LOOK BEHIND THE EYES OF JUN LOZADA>>> SA isip isip nya kapag nagtagumpay siya at BUMABA si GMA ng dahil sa kanya isa na syang HERO ng ating Bansa na maikukumpara sa IDOL nyang si Jose Rizal… WAG LANG MAKINIG SA IISANG PANIG. TUNAY NGANG TOTOO ANG ibang pinagsasasabi ni Jun Lozada ang matindi nga lang e pinaikot ikot nya at ginamit nya ang mga NAUTO nyang GOVT Officials kasi siya naman talaga ang unang humingi ng tulong sa mga ito. NANINIWALA ako na nauto lang nya sina SEC. Atienza, GAITE, DEFENSOR, RAZON atbp. MAGSIMULAT KAYO MGA NABUBULAG NA KABABAYAN! JUN LOZADA IS A FAKE!

  6. Itherean

    Lozada’s testimony (A commentary):
    For me alone, I would admit, in due respect, that I will not side either one of them. Remember that neither of these two factions, fighting each other do not guarantee one and negate the other. That is, neither one of them became good nor bad in their squabble.

    Although it is true that Lozada is a credible witness and I believe that he is telling the truth. Some of the news article says that he is planning everything in order to make him appear as a convincing liar. Who is that editor? The one who believes more with the truly corrupt officials than him?

    Lozada before confessed that he loses his right to testify against those officials when he is before involved in the alleged bribery scandal. We couldn’t prove if he receives some, because he is before a consultant in the ZTE contract. Moreover, he says that he is a President (now resigned) in the Philippine Forest Corporation when he answered the question interposed by Sen. Defensor-Santiago during the Senate-Hearing.
    I say that “when he loses such right” means he will be in pari delicto (equal guilt). He cannot accuse someone if he has committed the same.

    Yes, it is true that the public at large believes in his credible testimony, and so am I. Even though his testimony is credible enough when he discloses this in the Senate, it is preposterous enough that even some of the Senators in both opposition and administration (but not all), are like rotten apples. My apology is that, they cannot even prove themselves that they are good enough and a trustworthy official as far as the culture of corruption is concerned. They also receive kickbacks as well. Imagine who is the honest Senator receiving only P 204, 000 a year? Some of them receives more than what is enough from whatever proceeds from illegal (or might a legal) sources.
    That’s a balancing force of good and bad. It offsets each other. Then, his testimony as if, nothing happen.

    ZTE Contract is nevertheless valid for some reason. The President may enter any contract/s in accordance to the constitutional mandate. But I would admit that in this kind of contract, in my opinion, it is not applicable with respect to notification to Congress. It is true in some contract that needs notification (Art 13, 1987 Constitution on National Economy and Patrimony). The former might not because the purpose of ZTE contract is the installation of Government telecommunication facilities that only the authorized government officials can utilize the same. That kind of communication is highly sensitive and confidential in nature with respect to such kind of purpose.

    However, the contract has to be aborted. It is true that President Arroyo rescinded the contract because of such kind of alleged bribery scandal. The public gravely calumniates her that she is involved in such scandal. But the public shall be bound to know the truth behind, despite travesty of justice that needs to be painstakingly unveil.
    Whether or not when President rescinded the contract, did she receive, in whole or in part, before, during or after the rescission of the contract, such kind of bribes and kickback?

    It is nothing bad for the public to initiate a rally and a noise barrage to protest against those corrupt officials. It is clearly expressed in Section 4 that No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. This is the true spirit of democracy in a Republican type of government that people shall be supreme at all times and government authority emanates from them. It is better to show their grievances than to keep ourselves silent allowing us to be oppressed by their misdemeanors.
    But the truth behind shall first be settled by filing the petitions before the Supreme Court, because the one who can pierce the truth from the lies is a judicial prerogative. That is the apothegm of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Before they show their whims, let Supreme Court decide on that matter. The magistrates will render the decision for us and they will base their reason on such verdict, both with their own concurring and dissenting opinion.

    With President Arroyo, perhaps she can do anything good in improving our foreign relations with a country. If someone vituperates, foreign relations are still our indispensable for their future assistance for us with respect to paramount consideration of national economic and social progress, even from a piecemeal aid. We don’t expect anything about it. They only voluntarily provide the aid for us.
    She also initiates until completion of LRT 2 project and stability of Philippine Peso as against US Dollar Exchange Rate w/out affecting overseas remittance as mechanism for increased international reserve (to use as payment for import).
    She also invites prospective investors to the country, and therefore, we can still trusts her even they contend that she is a lesser evil among future presidential candidates that we are uncertain to give future for us.

    I know she is involved in Hello Garci Scandal. I favor in opening the case against her; however, what if, even a violation of special laws, do you agree that it is a sacrifice, because we are not sure about the other presidential candidates? We have no future for them. That is our quandary in the future. We are being tormenting too much.

    Now the pestiferous EO 464 issued by the President. It is true that EO 464 observes the doctrine of separation of powers. Each of the three branches of Government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial Dept) had their own domain of power given by the Constitution. Moreover, each of these had a privilege to exercise this power and kept some secret to prevent other branches to encroach with this power. But the secrecy and the furtive matters in their course of exercising this power have a limitation.
    Even there is a doctrine of separation of powers; nevertheless there is a system of corollary checks and balances.

    The Supreme Court held that provisions of EO 464 are partly valid and void in nature. Meetings of the President among its Cabinet members, and communication between President to its head in an agency under the Office of the President (NEDA, CHED, MMDA, NAC, etc…) are secret. But in case of compulsory appearance of executive officials before the Senate however, that Romulo Neri failed to prove that his appearance will affect national security, is nevertheless in his contention not to appear is a void executive privilege under EO 464. He cannot invoke that privilege of not to appear in Senate for to answer the question about the alleged scandal.

    Remember that Associate Justice Ynares-Santiago in her dissenting opinion that, EO 464 cannot be invoke to cover criminal conspiracies in the seat of the government. Bribery is a high crime. It violates RA 3019 and Revised Penal Code Book 2 on provisions known as Crimes Committed by Public Officials.

    How ZTE Contract scandal operates? They overprice the bidding and part of the amount will serve as their commission. This will be the share of the corrupt executive officials to the detriment of the general public. The question is where will our taxes go? Then, the contract will not yield the result because they said the money was meager enough. Huh, I’m so perplex. The money was scanty and insufficient to pay the contract?

    Executive Officials said in “Harapan” (ABS-CBN 2 show), when the contract was signed for approval, the amount increased to $329 M. In the newspaper article, this added amount was served to increase financing for construction of additional transmitter to facilitate nexus or flow of telecommunication networks. Okay, but as to manner of financing, why the contract was converted to Loan Package than “Build-Operate-Transfer Scheme”? Under BOT, the construction, maintenance and operation of ZTE will undertake by the Chinese company and after receiving the reasonable rate of return or payback, they will give this to the Philippine Government. It puts me to a quandary.
    Loan Package, meaning to say, the payment will come from National Treasury, out of collection from us, being a taxpayers?

    The evidence shall not only from credible witnesses. The Senate (spearheaded by Blue Ribbon Committee), shall be authorized to asks for a documentary evidence, specifically NBN Papers evidencing such transaction. But EO 464 shall be resolved first; otherwise our difficulty to find the truth still prevails for a longer period of time.

    With regard to arrests of officials, it is dubitable for Ex-COMELEC Chairman Abalos, Joey de Venecia, Romulo Neri, FG Arroyo and several John Does, Mark, Does, Richard Does and some Jane Does. Because the ff:
    1. They are clothed with power as officials and they have immunity, although FG Arroyo is an ordinary citizen, a husband of the President. Romulo Neri is still incumbent (NEDA now CHED Commissioner. What is he doing as Commissioner of CHED?)
    2. Ombudsman alone is painstakingly looking for opportunities while in the course of preliminary investigation and examination of said officials. Subpoena alone might be insufficient. Sandiganbayan is cognizable on OMB’s case preparation as a prosecutor, but the Anti-Graft court is waiting for that case set for hearing.
    3. Assuming that said corrupt officials had their own counsel (or acting in behalf), they are fond of telling lies, fabricating a version of their defense as a mere mode of technicalities than a merits on a case. With these, they have possibility of winning a trial, like we are letting a criminal escaped from apprehension. They take advantage in every turn of weaknesses of credible witness’ insufficient knowledge (or a mere hearsay) and information alleged by the prosecutor OMB.

    Remember that NAIA Terminal 3 Project was left still in progress, no completion. The Northrail and Southrail Project. Including the Mega-Pacific computerized election which it was discontinued because Ex-COMELEC Chairman Abalos was too greedy enough to pilfer the money to be financed from said project, and now he is going to ZTE.

    Then, those corrupt executive officials are getting exasperated because they were being accused, and file criminal cases for libel. Who are the criminals anyway, the one accusing them for misdemeanor, or the one tried to relieve themselves to the Court even they are in dirty hands?

    The Court only receives the case, and probably acquitted them, because it has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. Then, they are still in large. Now this is the time of our tribulation, while the opponent savors themselves in nefarious ways. Never will our country be prospering again. The only thing we can do is begin our renewal, and remain in faith with our Lord, while we continue our struggle.

    We have laws, but it remained futile because we cannot do anything, even their gravest transgression of the laws. We pray to obtain evidence from NBN Papers and the arrests of officials. That is all what we need. Hope that even the Court of Last Resort (Supreme Court) will not acquit the criminal unlike in People vs. Lucio Tan, et al. He was acquitted because lack of sufficient evidence to prove that he is a tax evader and creating illegal dummy corporations inside the allied bank and the questionable government properties acquired by Tan, whether or not he receives it as a gift or other consid

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