Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Lozada Brouhaha

Many people are awed by the oratorical prowess of Shakespeare's Mark Anthony in the play Julius Caesar. With masterful use of rhetorical devices, the presumptive heir to Caesar's throne whips an initially disdainful crowd into a frenzy against Brutus and his cohorts. But what many fail to remember is that upon finishing his speech and seeing the lynching mob whose emotions he had fanned, Anthony whispers wickedly to the audience: "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot."

Anthony's portentous aside, while unvoiced, is nonetheless clearly etched in the faces of Jose de Venecia, his son Joey, and the paleo- and neo- aristocrats at the Philippine Senate. Capitalizing on an ill-planned and monumental blunder of abortively preventing Jun Lozada from testifying at the Senate, these Anthony wannabes have seemingly fanned the riotous instincts of a gullible middle class whose primary occupation is to fantasize and plot the downfall of anyone residing in Malacanang.

Mr. Allan Peter Cayetano let slip his true intentions when he said on television that "the issue of the kidnapping of Jun Lozada is just as important - if not more important - than the NBN contract itself." Stripped of the tearless whining and the Gollum-like faces of Mr. Lozada, the fact is that his testimony on the NBN scandal is so flimsy it cannot support a prima facie finding - much less proof beyond reasonable doubt - of the complicity of Mike Arroyo, Abalos and Neri. Mr. Cayetano, who graduated from the Ateneo Law School in 1997, knew this. Which is precisely why he maneuvered the Senate hearings to first focus on the claim of kidnapping before shifting to Lozada's insubstantial testimony on the NBN contract. Sensationalism as a cover-up for lack of substance is a tried and tested ploy of mischief-makers.

Not all the hoi polloi are fooled. A friend recounted how, inside an FX taxi he was riding, two women were discussing the Lozada testimony. The driver, usually the invisible man as far as his passengers are concerned, interjected: "Bakit, naniniwala ba kayo dyan kay Lozada?" The two ladies flustered and lapsed into silence.

What is truly disgusting is seeing Satur Ocampo defending Jose de Venecia, a figure whose reputation during the Marcos and Ramos administrations is as sordid as a pile of rubbish. And there was the spectacle of Bayan chair Renato Reyes being cozy with gun-toter and warlord of Makati, Jejomar Binay! An easy explanation would be: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Or maybe it's because the Left already had a modus vivendi with Yoda, which is now threatened by the change in the Speakership. Or maybe the Left does not want to make the same strategic blunder of failing to ride the wave of popular sentiment which they committed in 1986. But out of the window go all avowals of principled politics.

Mr. Joker Arroyo is correct when he said that Jun Lozada is no Clarissa Ocampo. A self-confessed grafter who has made no penance despite the public confession of "petty" thievery, Lozada's testimony is convincing only to those who are blinded by the belief that everything GMA is evil. The rest of the population do not buy Lozada's theatrics. A whistleblower who says in public that to steal $65-million is a "permissible" act as "moderated greed" is beneath contempt and should not be given the stature of a Daniel Ellsberg. To call him a hero is to call horse dung pure gold. And, one may ask, how much was he given out of the "patriotic funds" of social malefactors? Lozada may no longer tee off at Wack-wack now and in the future, but he certainly will be found putting in some other green ... maybe abroad?

Atty. Katrina Legarda minces no words in her column of Feb. 17, 2008 (

Just like Winnie Monsod, I was angry when Jun Lozada omitted to state that he went to see Atty. Fely Aquino Arroyo last September 2007 – long before Jun Lozada was considered by the Senate as a possible witness (note: he met with Senators Lacson and Madrigal only in December 2007). This is a malicious omission. But if you want to rationalize it, you can say he was angry and afraid and just wanted to hit back, the way he was being attacked by Senator Joker. The point is: Jun Lozada made it to appear to everyone who was listening, and he NEVER corrected this lie of omission, that Atty. Fely Aquino Arroyo made him go to her house for the sole purpose of convincing him not to testify.

Jun Lozada is not an innocent in the dysfunctions and corruption of government contracts. You cannot be a whistle-blower unless you are a participant to the contract and its negotiation. Jun Lozada was the bagman of Neri, a man he still seeks to protect lest all his bank accounts be revealed and lost. Joey de Venecia wanted a powerful sponsor too, so he went to the president’s brother for help, but because the president’s brother was in Canada, Joey de Venecia was sent to Ricky Razon. I am sure, having an idea about how these things work, that Razon was supposed to tell him whether he had a chance in hell of getting his contract approved – Razon was NOT there to be his sponsor or his bagman. De Venecia had no intention of giving one cent to Razon. In short, everything was about the MONEY. Joey de Venecia and his backers and sponsors lost in the high stakes game of procurement. So he cried. And people forget that his contract price was $262 million …. And yet he claims that the true cost of the contract was only $132 million. To whom was Joey de Venecia’s padded cost going? $130 million din yun.

This is not to exonerate any of the "commissioners" of the aborted NBN contract. It is a 100% certainty that some people were going to get commissions for facilitating the consummation of the contract. To the extent that Lozada says this is standard practice in government contracts, he is telling the truth. This practice can be found even in congressional and senatorial PDAFs and other perks, and not just contracts entered into by the Executive Department. Which reveals the true nature of the Lozada hearings - a "petty" thief kvetching before his peers!

That "commissioning" is prevalent in all branches of the government does not, of course, make it right. And it is but correct that the citizenry should ever be vigilant against graft and corruption. It is a never-ending task that may be likened to cleansing the Aegean stables: as long as there are horses inside, there will always be dung to wash away.

But vigilance has never meant vigilantism. If there is solid evidence against any grafter no matter what his position, then let the chips fall where they may. One of the hallmarks of a civilization is that guilt must be proved through established procedures and not in unholy congressional inquisitions nor through lynch mob mentality fed by the machinations of some people who have no claim to the privilege of casting the first stone.