April 30, 2009

Lozada - more than an accidental hero

Engineer Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is an accidental hero but a hero nonetheless to a people starved for real-life, modern-day heroes. As star witness in the Senate probe on the highly anomalous, $329 NBN-ZTE broadband deal, he exposed the shenanigans of then Comelec Commissioner Abalos, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, all the way up to de facto President Gloria Arroyo, in inking the contract with a Chinese government-owed corporation to the detriment of public interest. He also exposed the use of government forces to kidnap him and hold him against his will while presidential operators alternately threatened and attempted to bribe him to keep his mouth shut.

Jun Lozada is a hero for (1) deciding to tell the truth and not be a party to a massive cover-up; (2) being steadfast and not caving in to enticements and pressures for him to recant; (3) and for fighting back against political persecution, his own and indirectly, that of others targeted by the Arroyo regime.

In particular, he has taken his cause against the corrupt GMA regime one step further in this latest episode of the continuing saga - Lozada and the Filipino people vs Malacañang - by his refusal to file bail in the perjury case filed against him by Mr. Mike Defensor. Instead he has chosen to go to jail to assert legally and politically that there are absolutely no grounds for his arrest. Rather, he is a victim of Malacanang’s political vendetta and its desperate attempts to deodorize the stink of the NBN-ZTE and other corrupt deals.

Too bad for Malacanang, Mr. Lozada’s story was much more believable; his body language, more spontaneous and sincere; and the dramatic circumstances surrounding his decision to testify in the Senate and state the truth as he knew it, not only added to his credibility but was so gripping, the usually boring Senate investigations became material for prime time TV.

Overwhelming public opinion at the time was that Mr. Lozada told the truth while FG’s and Mrs. Arroyo’s cohorts like Mr. Abalos, and her lapdogs like Mr. Defensor, lied through their teeth. What with the Arroyo regime’s moves to keep then NEDA Secretary Romulo Neri from giving damaging testimony by invoking “executive privilege”, the Arroyo regime’s legal acrobatics was exposed as its way to maintain a humongous lie and get off the hook, the way it did with the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal and later, the Jocjoc Bolante fertilizer scam.

At first blush, it would appear that Mr. Lozada is trying to be some kind of martyr, if not trying to get public sympathy as an underdog. But what he has done is embark on a determined campaign for justice: first, in the court of public opinion; and secondly, but no less importantly, in the judge’s court.

By refusing to post bail, he has squarely taken on the gross injustice of the court’s finding of probable cause (that he had lied in his sworn testimony) and its issuance of a warrant for his arrest. Had he immediately filed bail to avoid detention, it would have meant accepting the court’s findings and submitting himself to it. The news would have merited a small spot in the inside pages of the newspapers and thereafter been consigned to oblivion. Malacañang would have won Round 1 of the fight.

Mr. Defensor stated in a press conference - while Mr. Lozada was being arrested and just before he flew off on a vacation to the USA with his entire family in tow - that he had sought relief from the courts because he wanted to preserve the honor of his name. Of course, no one really believes the guy considering he has allowed himself to be used repeatedly by his Great Patroness, Mrs. Arroyo, for all sorts of missions impossible, doing political damage control. He only ended up with egg on his face and his name and reputation damaged further each time.

Mr. Lozada has repeatedly stated that this is not just about him and the seemingly peevish Mr. Defensor. He had initially thought of resuming a normal life, going back home with his family and putting up some kind of business so that he would no longer have to depend on the sanctuary program of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. Then this reversal of the court ruling that he had not perjured himself and the order for his arrest.

He could have chosen to go down quietly, i.e. not fight this latest legal setback and just hope that his tormentors get tired of playing games with him and for things to blow over. Like other whistleblowers before him who picked up the pieces of their life after courageously testifying in the Senate or in court and then finding themselves hung out high and dry with no legal and physical protection against the powerful people they dared expose.

Instead Mr. Lozada has chosen passive resistance: to go to jail yet still do battle albeit within the confines of the judicial processes that have been shown highly stacked against him.

His move has taken Malacañang by surprise and is likely causing Mrs. Arroyo and her political advisers sleepless nights. It has landed in print and broadcast media headlines. And it has the potential to capture people’s imaginations and get them on their feet, raging against the injustice of this regime and its manipulation of the flawed judicial system.

But on the part of those who support him - the truth seekers, the social and political activists and those who are just plain fed up with the exploitative and oppressive system - resistance must be active.

Jun Lozada deserves our support. His recent actions are showing him to be an essentially upright and courageous man with an intense sense of patriotism and an unflagging confidence his fellow Filipinos will see the truth and embrace it. His fight is also our fight. And it can be the occasion to further the struggle against systemic corruption and elite politics that is almost universally abhorred except by those who gain from it and wish to maintain the status quo.

Jun Lozada is a leading member of Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change, a new movement that gathers concerned citizens desirous of a more meaningful change in our society; not just a change of leadership in government but a decisive break from the poverty-ridden, unjust and corrupt social system that grew worse even after two EDSA uprisings. His active participation in Pagbabago! shows he has gone a long, long way from being an accidental hero.

Would it not be an irony of the most triumphant kind if this latest attempt to silence Jun Lozada, to break his will and to isolate him, should in fact turn into an outpouring of support for him and a denunciation of this lying, plundering, and murderous regime?

Let it be so.#

April 23, 2009

The Failon syndrome

In this country, the name Failon has instantly become associated with police brutality and abuse of authority. The untimely death of Trinidad Etong, the wife of popular radio and television news anchor Ted Failon, likely by her own hand, has resulted in a series of tragic events for her family. What would otherwise be a personal cross to bear for Mr. Failon and his children has become a highly publicized spectacle of the police venting their ire and their incompetence on the hapless members of Mr. Failon’s household, including his wife’s siblings, who just happened to be there.

This is not just a case of police overzealousness, nor of police brutality. All the elements that should have stayed the hand of the police were present. At the outset the case was an apparent suicide attempt; the commission of a felony was not self-evident although it could not be ruled out. Mr. Failon is a high- profile media personality, a former Congressman, a man of some means and with connections in high places, as high up as Vice President Noli de Castro, who rushed to Mr. Failon’s side after the incident.

Prudence and judiciousness were clearly the way to go for any responsible police investigator but the police authorities did the exact opposite.

Very early on the investigators drew the conclusion that they were dealing with a parricide case; i.e. Mr. Failon had attempted to kill his wife. Even while Ms. Etong was fighting for her life in the hospital, the police were engaged, not in investigating the circumstances of the shooting, but in building up a case against her husband.

They were quick to speculate that the wife had been shot in Mr. Failon’s car and then transferred to the bathroom. This despite the testimony of all the household help, Ms. Etong’s sister and Mr. Failon that they found her in the bathroom bathed in a pool of her own blood, with a gun at her side, and that she was subsequently rushed by Mr. Failon to the hospital in his car.

The police initially stated that there was no evidence of the spent bullet ricocheting in the bathroom (they later found it); that the husband had scratches on his back indicating that the “victim” had fought off her “assailant” (there were none); and that there were solid indications of an attempted cover-up by cleaning the scene of the crime, both the bloodied bathroom and the vehicle.

The “law enforcers” were uncharacteristically swift in hauling off Mr. Failon for questioning; they took forever to process his sworn statement; and it was only through the intervention of the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office that he was temporarily released. Whereupon police officials peremptorily declared that he was the object of a manhunt for illegally removing himself from their custody.

They manhandled, summarily arrested and arbitrarily detained Mr. Failon’s house help, driver, and in-laws on the groundless charge of “obstruction of justice” when they had not even established if a crime had been committed.

Their brash and excessive actions indicate confidence that they had the approval, if not the direct orders of “higher ups” in the Philippine National Police (PNP) and perhaps even in the higher reaches of government.

The immediate and unwavering support for the police by the Justice Secretary compared to the slow response to complaints of police abuse by those directly supervising the PNP, strongly suggest that powerful quarters are at work here. They have an axe to grind against Mr. Failon. Perhaps they want to put an end to his hard-hitting commentaries against the Arroyo regime, erring public officials and their criminal cohorts. Could it be that they are out to cut Mr. Failon and other critical media practitioners like him down to size?

So much so that police brutality and highhandedness, extensively covered by the mass media, were allowed to go on unimpeded for several days after the incident. This was only stopped by overwhelming public sympathy for Mr. Failon, his family and household members and almost universal condemnation of the actuations of the police. For if the police could do this to Mr. Failon, how much more ordinary citizens without the means, the connection, and the clout with the media? What about those who have consistently been in their crosshairs like activists, critics of government and others in opposition to it.

The Arroyo government has been forced to suspend six of the police officers involved and to shift the investigation from the police to the National Bureau of Investigation, an agency under the control of the notoriously biased Justice Secretary. It is clearly in damage control mode. The incident will be dismissed as an isolated case. A few will be “punished” and thereafter investigation into their culpabilities and liabilities will be conveniently forgotten. Involved higher-ups and the system that breeds these kinds of abuse will be firewalled.

It remains to be seen whether the victims will find the steps taken by government to redress their grievances satisfactory. Otherwise they risk being dismissed as unreasonable, incorrigible critics or even allowing themselves to be used by Mrs. Arroyo’s political enemies what with the upcoming 2010 presidential elections.

Unfortunately, if the underlying reasons for such an incident are not probed and exposed and if the government is allowed once more to sweep this atrocity under the rug, impunity for such crimes, by those in authority, will again reign supreme.

The message still for many is that one must not “run afoul of the law” meaning, do not criticize much less oppose government authorities, from the policeman on the beat to the untouchables in and around Malacañang. In this country, crime does pay especially if you have the power and the means to crush your opponents including paying off the police, the military and corrupt fiscals and judges to do your bidding. #

April 02, 2009

Building a movement for change

In the past year, more so in recent months, numerous “movements” have been sprouting, calling our attention to their views on the ills of Philippine society, their causes and proposed solutions. Most have raised the issues of corruption and malgovernance and prescribed the antidote of electing good leaders to public office. Some, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Puno, have called for a “moral force” to battle the forces of evil that have undermined the country’s political institutions and are tearing apart the social fabric.

The cynics may say this phenomenon only proves that election season is truly upon us. Local politicians’ streamers have been greeting their constituencies “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and graduating students “Congratulations!”; the more ambitious with an eye to national office spend huge sums on television infomercials on this or that cause.

It stands to reason that those seeking elective positions need to create a mass base (or the illusion of one) as part of drumbeating their candidacy, hoping to ratchet up their ranking in popularity surveys. The enterprising who seek to turn a profit on the electoral carnival want to have the grassroots base (or the illusion of one) that they can parlay to the candidates as a reliable base of support and an essential component of a formidable campaign machinery.

For our part, we see these movements as an expression of the people's general awareness, if not political consciousness, that they have to participate in an extra-electoral or meta-electoral way to make sure these elections don't turn out like all other previous elections. It indicates, more importantly, that people by and large realize that extraordinary action is needed to address the extraordinary situation or shall we say - deep rut - which we have become mired in.

Last week more than a hundred twenty people gathered in a former ancestral home turned museum in Manila and enthusiastically discussed the initiation of a “people’s movement for Change”. A significant number were social and political activists in their youth who continue to be concerned, committed and involved in one way of another, big or small. There were a few media personalities are in the front line of the Oust GMA campaign.

A sizeable number are middle class but there were those who would classify themselves as among the “poor, deprived and oppressed”. Many are active in their churches as bishops, pastors, religious and lay people; in education as teachers, professors and NGO workers in informal education, research and organizing; and in art, communications, law, health, science and technology.

Young people in their twenties were present though not yet in droves; there was a considerable number of thirty somethings.

Their concept of a “people’s movement for Change” (note the capital C) is founded on the view that the Filipino people yearn for genuine change. For one, they demand that the Arroyo regime be made accountable for its crimes against the people even after Mrs. Arroyo is removed from her illegal occupation of Malacañang.

But more than a change of leadership, the new group called for “a decisive break from the poverty-ridden, unjust and corrupt social system that grew worse even after EDSA I and EDSA II”. For this purpose an 11-point “People’s Agenda” was deliberated upon and adopted by the assembly covering economic, political and socio-cultural changes that the group considers vital.

Even though the group was highly critical of the post EDSA outcomes, it affirmed “people power” as an extraordinary yet democratic exercise of the people’s sovereign will, necessitated by an oppressive regime that blocks all peaceful avenues to redress of grievances and, more so, meaningful change. It called on the people to persevere in undertaking united, democratic, creative and peaceful protest actions to assert their rights and fight for substantial reforms in all spheres.

A pointed question came from a young student leader: How did the group distinguish itself from similar movements that had emerged and whether it aims to unite all the various groups into a single, cohesive movement.

The response from Organizing Committee members was well received. That is, the group does not see itself or claim to be THE movement above all movements; it is still too early to say how similar or different the group is from others striving to build a movement for change since most if not all groups are still evolving; and the ultimate measure of the correctness or success of any of these groups lies in how they carry out their self-defined tasks to achieve their goals rather than in mere rhetoric.

Furthermore, it was clarified that it is not the aim of the group to build a single organization or movement out of all the various movements clamoring for change or reform. There should be recognition and respect for diversity in specific goals and approaches, and a search for avenues of cooperation and unity, thus turning diversity into strength.

The fledgling group then acknowledged both the unusual opportunities as well as countervailing conditions for initiating change given the severity of the global and national economic downturn and the coming 2010 elections.

Rather than be deterred by the worsened economic dislocation and social turmoil that the global recession is wreaking on the people, the group saw the situation as a means to raise public awareness, galvanize people into action and organize at the grassroots.

In the coming 2010 national elections, the group asserted it would actively work to foster “new politics” referring to the “supervision of leadership by a politically-aware and empowered people; development and support for leaders with a track record of being pro-people, pro-Filipino, honest and morally upright; and a government that relies on the continuing consent and support of the governed rather than coercive means to maintain itself in power.”

But more than acting as an election watchdog and campaigning for candidates with a platform and track record consistent with the People’s Agenda, the group that has still to finalize its name, much more do the spade work needed to build a real people’s movement, vowed to be around for the long haul, long after the din and hoopla of the 2010 elections have faded away.

As more and more of our countrymen have come to realize, we all have to do a lot more than cast our ballots on election day, for real change to be achieved. #