So what else is new under a govern-ment run by a criminal gang?
No credible threat has been established after all this time against the life of ZTE witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr. He said he has been receiving text messages threatening him harm. He has not volunteered his suspicion on where the threats came.
But this much is beyond dispute: On the day he was taken upon arrival from Hong Kong there was a clear threat to his liberty. And that was in the form of an arrest warrant issued by the Senate for his failure to appear before a hearing on the alleged corruption that attended the $329 million national broadband deal.
The conclusion, therefore, is that Lozada was taken into custody no less than by policemen – if we are to believe the testimony of police officials who appeared at yesterday’s hearing – to help him evade the Senate warrant servers waiting for him at the arrival area.
Is this now how agents of persons in authority treat the Senate, one of the two chambers that make up the legislative branch of government? Help a person – if indeed Lozada originally did not want to appear before the Senate – give the slip to the sheriffs?
Senate President Manny Villar was right in saying he resented the implications of what the policemen did to Lozada on those two days he was under their custody. Following the policemen’s logic, they would provide “protection,” zealously at that, to anybody who feels his liberty is threatened by a congressional arrest warrant.
Good that it dawned on Lozada himself that he would be safer in the custody of the Senate than being under the “protection” of armed men he did not know and who were bringing him to some unknown destination.
What if Lozada indeed did not want to appear before the Senate for fear he would be disclosing matters that would embarrass the powers that be, at the very least, or send them to jail, at the worst?
That was meant to be rhetorical question. For we know already know the answer or answers. Let’s name just two of them, namely, Joc Joc Bolante and Virgilio Garcillano.
Senate warrant servers in the case of the former and House servers in the case of the latter failed to take them into custody because of the Executive branch’s active role in hiding them. In the case of Bolante, he wanted to protect the identity of the mastermind in the P720 million fertilizer scam. In the case of Garcillano, he wanted to protect the identity of the woman who had been calling him to ensure her election margin of one million votes.
Now that we are talking about $130 million in kickback demanded by former election chair Benjamin and $70 million demanded by another who the witness could potentially identify, the wonder is Lozada did not end up in an unmarked grave in Laguna or Cavite.
So what else is new under a government run by a criminal gang?
Spit it out
MANILA, Philippines — Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Or, perhaps more precisely, between the forbidding mountain of official loyalty and the Great Wall of personal conscience.
In media interviews he did not seek, answering questions he wished to avoid, Neri has suggested that something unusual took place in relation to the controversial $330-million contract, awarded to the Chinese firm ZTE, to create a National Broadband Network (NBN).
As the days drag on, and more details emerge, the controversy over the ZTE contract deepens. One of those details involves the alleged offer, to Neri, of a P200-million bribe. Asked on radio about it, Neri did not issue an outright denial — of the bribe offer, that is. Tellingly, he only said he was not the kind of person who accepted bribes. “I can’t do that. It will be [on] my conscience and I believe in bad karma.”
But did such an offer actually take place? “It’s really difficult for me to say yes or no,” he said. “It’s difficult to prove either way.”
Now this is interesting. Neri is no technocratic babe in this country’s overgrown political woods; he has served as budget secretary and, in Congress, as chief budget planning officer. He is no stranger to the stratagems of wily politicians. Surely he knows — in the depths of his conscience, where his belief in karma rests — when and whether a bribe is being offered or not.
We can understand his hesitation about proving a claim of bribery. The issue may well go down to his word against that of another official (whether of the Philippine government or the Chinese firm, we do not yet know for certain). That will be difficult to prove. But we cannot sympathize with his alleged difficulty in judging whether a bribe had in fact been offered or not.
Even if he was unsure then, surely the details that have emerged since now tell him that something was definitely amiss.
There is a good reason Neri is being sought for his comments. The board of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), of which he was director general, approved the controversial plan to create yet another multibillion-peso information technology infrastructure for the government.
The NBN initiative, as approved, called for a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme, which would not cost the government a single centavo. At one meeting with Chinese officials, he recalled the other day, he “clarified that this is the position of government at the time — no guarantee, no loan. It was shown in the NEDA board minutes.”
One of the inglorious mysteries of the NBN scandal, however, involves the sudden metamorphosis of the initiative from a BOT project to a government program funded by a government-sourced loan. How did this happen? “It’s the DOTC [Department of Transportation and Communication] that should answer,” Neri said.
This suggests that his answer to the question of whether a bribe was in fact offered to him — “It’s really difficult for me to say yes or no. It’s difficult to prove either way” — is a calibrated response. It is meant to negotiate that difficult passage between two impossible masters, to please both the requirements of official loyalty and the demands of personal conscience.
In this light, his repeated references during the interviews to Executive Order 464, which he says requires the President to sign off on his appearance before a legislative inquiry into the ZTE contract, seem to us to be a plea for help. He wants to be given permission to say what he knows.
To that, we say: Say what you know, with or without permission. When the bribe offer took place, turning it down was a triumph of personal conscience; not talking about it, or perhaps privately bringing it to the attention of higher officials, was an exercise in official loyalty.
Now that the sordid details of the ZTE contract have started to emerge, however, the dictates of conscience have changed. Now that the very thing Neri and other government officials loyal to the people wanted to avoid, namely, the imposition of yet another corruption-swollen debt on the government to fund what has become a questionable project, has become reality, the dictates of conscience require Neri to tell us, even at the cost of breaking his oath of loyalty to the administration, what he really knows.