Updated April 30, 2009 12:00 AM
Rodolfo Lozada Jr. can surely afford to post the minimal bail bond needed in a criminal case filed against him. But Lozada’s refusal to post bail drives home one point: there are many individuals who should be behind bars or at least on trial in connection with the broadband network deal between the government and China’s ZTE Corp. So who gets a warrant of arrest first? The whistle-blower.
Lozada was arrested yesterday on orders of the Manila Regional Trial Court. The warrant stems from a perjury case filed by Michael Defensor, President Arroyo’s former chief of staff, who was implicated by Lozada in what he described as an effort to stop him from testifying before the Senate on the ZTE deal.
The fate of the other players in that incident explains Lozada’s refusal to post bail. The Malacañang official directly implicated in the effort to keep Lozada quiet, Manuel Gaite, has been promoted from deputy executive secretary to commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing an official at the heart of the Legacy Group scandal. The security escorts who “greeted” Lozada upon his arrival at the NAIA from Hong Kong have disappeared, their reported ties to the Presidential Security Group swept under the rug. Other officials mentioned by Lozada in the attempt to keep him away from the Senate are still with the government.
Beyond that incident upon his arrival, which Lozada suspected was a kidnapping attempt or worse, no one has been prosecuted in connection with the ZTE broadband scandal. Benjamin Abalos, though forced to quit shortly before the end of his tenure as chairman of the Commission on Elections, is enjoying his retirement. Leandro Mendoza, who signed the deal with ZTE executives in Boao, China in the presence of President Arroyo, still has his job. And Romulo Neri, the former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority who initially disclosed a P200-million bribe allegedly offered by Abalos, now manages billions of pesos of the private sector’s pension fund after he invoked executive privilege and learned to keep his mouth shut.
Only one man is being punished in connection with a $329-million deal that the government was forced to scrap: Rodolfo Lozada Jr. Michael Defensor is well within his right to want to clear his name, but Lozada’s prosecution is rubbing salt on a festering wound. It is a good example of the selective justice that has come to be associated with this administration.
The impending arrest of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not just another of the continuing moves to harass a witness who blew the whistle on the corruption surrounding the $329-million deal for a national broadband network between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Philippine government. It is also intended as a warning to would-be whistle-blowers on other anomalous transactions entered into by the Arroyo administration, perceived by the people to be the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines.
The perjury charge filed by Michael “Mike” Defensor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff, is just one of 16 cases filed against Lozada, ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft. Lozada and his family also said they have received death threats as a result of his exposé. For the past year or so, Lozada and his family have been living in seclusion at the La Salle Green Hills, with security provided by nuns.
Contrast this with the freedom that former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri are enjoying. Abalos purportedly said, “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (This has been interpreted as meaning that there was P200 million for Neri in the deal.) Neri acknowledged that he heard the offer but recommended the approval of the deal anyway. There was a bribery attempt, but the bribe offeror was not charged. Neri, instead of being dismissed for not reporting the bribery attempt, was transferred to another government position.
The courts and the law enforcement agencies are continuously being used to harass Lozada, his wife and other family members. The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines said that the government’s latest move— the order for the arrest of Lozada—“is a warning to other people both inside and outside the government who have knowledge of important information related to the practice of corruption of people in power to shut up—or else.”
The continuing harassment of Lozada and his family is not going unnoticed by civil society. Former President Corazon Aquino has thrown her support behind Lozada and has urged those “who support the truth” to speak out against his impending arrest on the perjury charge. Former President Joseph Estrada has joined Aquino’s call. Estrada said, “It is not a democracy where those who speak the truth are imprisoned or threatened to be imprisoned while those who abuse the people run free.” Some senators have also spoken out in support of Lozada. The wonder is that the case has not sparked a bigger public outrage. Probably the people are waiting for the actual arrest of Lozada before they speak out and stage protests? Or probably they consider a perjury charge too small a case to get exercised about?
Lozada has said that he is not going to post bail and would not resist arrest as a sign of protest against what he called the government’s continuing harassment through a number of cases filed against him and his wife.
We hope this latest government move is not just a ploy to further isolate Lozada. We hope that the case will be tried soon, so that the people will know the truth about the NBN-ZTE deal, for whose signing Ms Arroyo, according to a Malacañang press release, “left like a thief in the night,” leaving the bedside of her husband who was at that time recovering from a life-threatening operation.
If the trial court will be fair and just, the administration may not get the result that it wants in causing the filing of the perjury charge against Lozada. The case, Lozada said, might provide the starting point for a full-blown court hearing on the alleged irregularities in the NBN-ZTE deal. That would be ironic justice, because it would result in the disclosure of the truth and the exposure of things that the administration would like to stay hidden.