May 30, 2013

Whistleblower takes the rap

Whistleblowers are like shooting stars. Depending on who they are ratting on and how explosive their testimony, they can shine ever so brightly in the political firmament.  They become celebrities for a brief moment in time, much sought after by the mass media as well as politicians, especially those in the so-called Opposition who are always on the look-out for ammunition against the incumbent administration. They may even become anti-corruption icons in pop culture; the more successful ones, that is, like Engr. Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada.

One recalls how, at the height of the NBN-ZTE scam expose, Jun Lozada was literally the "toast of the town", widely admired, and cheered on and adulated specially by the youth and students in schools where he guested.  With his wide popularity and following, he was a shoo-in for the Senate or any elective post of his choice, which he however, perhaps wisely, shunned.

However the high profile persona Mr. Lozada was able to sustain from the time he came out to testify publicly against the former First Couple, President Gloria Arroyo and husband Miguel Arroyo, and other co-conspirators in the P329 billion NBN-ZTE broadband scam has not come without a price.

Ironically, unlike the expected reprisal most whistleblowers are subjected to by the objects of their exposes, i.e. incumbent government officials and their cohorts in crime, and the counterpart protection from those who benefit politically from their testimony, Lozada is now being fed to the dogs not by the Arroyos who are no longer in Malacañang, but by its new occupant, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III aka “Pnoy”.

Mr. Aquino, the indirect beneficiary of Lozada’s unarguably courageous act (the stink from the NBN-ZTE deal having contributed mightily to isolating the Arroyo regime and propelling Aquino to power) is taking a purportedly hands-off stance with regard to the corruption cases filed against Lozada by Mr. Aquino’s appointee, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, at the instance of one Irwin Santos.  The latter is a GMA loyalist who was recruited to file a harassment suit against Lozada soon after he testified against the Arroyos.

Instead of moving to grant Lozada immunity from suit, Aquino mysteriously appointed Mr. Santos as the new head of Philippine Forest Corporation (Philforest), a position previously held by Lozada. He thus put Santos in an advantageous position to pursue the pro-GMA harassment suits against the erstwhile whistleblower. Santos has administrative control over the documents relating to the corruption cases against Lozada thus making it difficult for him and his co-accused brother, from gathering documentary evidence in their defence.

When Lozada, at the urging of well-intentioned supporters like the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP), recently met with Aquino to appraise him of the anomalous situation wherein he, the Aquino government’s star witness in the corruption case against the Arroyos, is concurrently being prosecuted for corruption in the same Sandiganbayan Court, he was met with a stinging rebuke from the Chief Executive.

From the accounts of the religious who accompanied Lozada including former AMRSP Co-Chair Mother Mary John Mananzan, OSB, Aquino reprised a perceived slight that he suffered at the hands of Lozada during the time when the latter was on his way back to Manila from Hong Kong, on the verge of deciding to testify against the NBN-ZTE cabal.  Aquino recounted that he was waiting at the NAIA airport, ready to provide protection for the whistleblower while taking on attendant risks to himself, when Lozada snubbed him and instead fled into the waiting arms of the nuns, priests and the De La Salle brothers who provided him sanctuary and moral support.

As to the unavoidable conclusion that the government is undermining its own case against the Arroyos -- whose punishment was thunderously promised by Mr. Aquino during his presidential campaign and whose crimes are conveniently dredged up by Mr. Aquino whenever he needs to burnish his “good governance” credentials – Mr. Aquino dropped the bombshell that his administration is no longer that interested in pursuing the NBN-ZTE corruption case since it was not a “consummated deal” anyway. (Recall that Mrs. Arroyo cancelled the deal when it became too hot to handle and in order to undercut persistent calls for her ouster from power.)

Ergo, Lozada’s testimony is dispensable and he can expect no help of any kind from Aquino.

But there is more to this than meets the eye.  Apparently the new Philforest head has close ties to several personalities, not least of whom is Aquino buddy and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, whose brother-in-law, real estate developer Mr. Jose Acuzar, benefitted from the lease of 2,000 hectares of forest land in Busuanga, Palawan as a result of an Arroyo midnight executive order that Mr. Aquino has not overturned despite the appeal of Palaweños who stand to be adversely affected by it.

Perhaps Mr. Aquino’s backing for Irwin Santos is not simply a matter of vindictiveness over a perceived slight after all.  One cannot avoid raising the question, “Gaano katuwid ba ang daang matuwid na pinangangalandakan ni Presidente Aquino?” (How straight is the straight path that Mr. Aquino boasts of?)

Again the double standard pursued by the Aquino presidency rears its ugly head.  He backs to the hilt shooting buddies, classmates, relatives and political allies who run afoul of the laws of the land or are exposed to have bungled their jobs but keeps his distance when whistleblowers like Jun Lozada find themselves the object of attacks and countersuits.

As a result of the lame excuse concocted by DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman that Mr. Aquino does not wish to “interfere” with judicial processes, Lozada is left to fend for himself in the legal battles occasioned by his decision to contribute to the anti-corruption fight through his knowledge of albeit qualified participation in past corrupt deals.

At this point one can reasonably raise doubts about President Aquino’s anti-corruption shibboleth when aside from his abandonment of whistleblowers like Lozada, he has not facilitated the passage of laws crucial to a serious anti-corruption reform campaign.  These include the Freedom of Information Act and the Whistleblower Protection, Security and Benefit Act.  From the looks of it, the prosecution of Lozada could be nothing less than a warning to dissuade would be-whistleblowers from exposing corruption under the Aquino regime.

This columnist must confess that she was not so enamoured by Jun Lozada when he was at the height of his popularity hobnobbing with personalities like former President Cory Aquino and surrounded by the politically ambitious and morally ambivalent characters of the day who are now in the corridors of power under the “Pnoy” regime.

From a straightforward whistleblower who admitted tearfully to his own weaknesses and failings while he effectively exposed the much greater perfidy being committed by his bosses, he appeared to have let his popularity go to his head and adopted a messianic pose.

But following closely the ups and downs of his life in the aftermath of that fateful decision to bare the rot of corruption in the Arroyo administration and beyond, I am convinced that Jun Lozada has not benefitted in a material way nor in terms of acquiring a position of power and influence under the new dispensation.  On the contrary, Lozada has quietly -- because he has chosen to keep a low profile -- but no less persistently and passionately contributed to the  movement  against corruption and for good governance.

Jun Lozada deserves the support of decent and upright Filipinos who truly wish to make accountable the political class who would enrich and perpetuate themselves in power at the expense of the majority of the Filipino people. #

Published in Business World
1-2 June 2013


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