Lorenzo “Jun” Lozada, Jr. finally surfaced and testified on the rotten ZTE deal, aptly enough, at the start of the Chinese lunar new year commemorating the Rat, an animal known for its intelligence and cunning. According to Wikipedia, rat people are ambitious and strong-willed, keen promoters of their own agenda, which often include money and power.
“They are energetic and versatile and can usually find their way around obstacles, and adapt to various environments easily. A rat’s natural charm and sharp demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone, but rats are usually highly exclusive and selective when choosing friends and so often have only a few very close friends whom they trust. Behind the smiles and charm, rats can be terribly obstinate and controlling, insisting on having things their way no matter what the cost. Rats are masters of mind games and can be very dangerous, calculative and downright cruel if the need arises. Quick-tempered and aggressive, they will not think twice about exacting revenge on those that hurt them in any way. Rats need to learn to relax sometimes, as they can be quite obsessed with detail, intolerant and strict, demanding order, obedience, and perfection. Rats consider others before themselves, and can be deeply affronted if they feel they have been deceived or that their trust has been abused.”
Sounds familiar ? This seems to be a fairly accurate description of a number of characters involved in the ZTE scandal, including, by his own account, Jun Lozada himself.
By turns weepy and remorseful, then cheeky and even brazen, Lozada testified for eight full hours on all the sordid details of his involvement in the national broadband network (NBN) project and named names. He recounted his abduction upon arriving from Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon and how he was pressured by personalities close to the President, fingering DENR Secretary Lito Atienza and CHED Chairman Romulo Neri. He was ordered, he says, to make public statements disavowing the involvement of Malacanang in the aborted deal and to sign documents exculpating the Palace authorities for his “kidnapping” . At his request, he was delivered over to the custody of the Christian Brothers at La Salle Greenhills. There he conducted a press conference at 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning, allegedly at the suggestion of former presidential chief of staff Mike Defensor. He thereafter surrendered himself to the custody of the Senate.
He made a melodramatic entrance in the company of priests and nuns from La Salle, forming a “human shield” around him. After an initial show of fear and trembling, complete with tears and invocations of divine protection, he freely narrated his role in the aborted ZTE transaction, which was to act as an adviser on the financing and technical viability of the NBN project. His involvement was at the behest of then National Economic and Development Authority Director-General Romulo Neri, who told him to ”moderate the greed” of those working for kickbacks from the proposed deal with the ZTE Corporation of China, primarily then COMELEC Chair and chief ZTE lobbyist Benjamin Abalos Jr. and the president’s husband, Mike Arroyo. Per Lozada, Abalos was expecting a US$ 130 million “commission”, almost 40% of the US$ 329 million contract. Lozada said that government projects are usually overpriced by 20% to provide for bribes or commissions. This was twice the going rate.
I have an instinctive aversion to people who rat on their friends, particularly if they themselves are guilty, to some degree, of the very crimes which they impute to others. I particularly loath those who suddenly find religion just when they are about to be thrown to the wolves. But my personal feelings aside, Lozada is a credible witness. He knows whereof he speaks, having been privy to the backroom dealings and shameless corruption characteristic of government transactions under the Arroyo administration. Indeed, as President of the government-owned Philippine Forest Corporation (PHILFOREST), Lozada readily admitted to having entered corrupt contracts which directly benefitted his wife and family. His questionable transactions involved a P5 million insurance policy taken by PHILFOREST with his wife as underwriter, the lease of a 50-hectare property to a corporation controlled by him, service contracts with his brother which did not go through the mandatory bidding process, the acquisition of expensive vehicles for his personal use and even the purchase of 35 goats for P700,000.00. Its all a matter of degree, according to Lozada. Under questioning by Sen. Miriam Santiago, Lozada qualified between “permissible” corruption and that which even he could not stomach, in this wise:
“In explaining, Lozada spoke of his personal “permissible zone” and “forbidden zone” levels when it came to commissions from government projects. He said kickbacks of 22 percent were a “norm” in government transactions.
Lozada admitted he himself was no saint when it came to taking advantage of his former government post as Philforest president. He said with a smile that his permissible zone had just been blown away by Santiago.”
Lozada’s testimony in undoubtedly seriously damaging to GMA and will open whole new can of worms on the ZTE broadband network scandal. But will it be enough, as administration stalwarts fear, to cause the downfall of President Arroyo ? I don’t think so. At least not in the immediate term.
In the first place, I don’t see people rallying around a pious fraud like Lozada. Furthermore, political fatigue, cynicism and apathy has set in among the general public. While the whole affair makes for good entertainment, it has an air about it of a quarrel among thieves. Masses of people are not rushing out into the streets to express their outrage. They’re all at the malls. It is, however, another nail in the political coffin of GMA.
A word must be said, however, about the inept handling by Malacanang’s minions of Lozada. WTF were they thinking ? In matters of this nature, half-assed measures won’t cut it. You either make him, to use a Sicilian phrase popularized by “The Godfather”, “sleep with the fishes” or you leave him the hell alone to face the music. You don’t drive aimlessly around, with everyone, subject and handlers alike, gabbing on the phone, take him to Outback for a steak and deliver him to the good brothers of La Salle, then expect things to simmer down.
I suppose GMA deserves the people around her, who are now running around like headless chickens trying vainly to put together some plan for damage control. What a bunch of nitwits.
And what of Lozada, the rodent of this piece ? Well he’s found redemption. Says he:
“There are certain things I did in my life that I would like to change. But whatever respect I have for myself, I want to keep it. I am afraid I might lose my soul, I admit to that, mea culpa.”
Good for him. Lozada is now the poster boy for the Year of the Rat.
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