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.”