Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Light and Darkness

There is only one weapon you can wield to fight off the siege the armies of the night will lay upon you when you take the witness stand, that will leave you standing when the smoke clears, proud and victorious: The truth. ---Conrado de Quiros

One thing is clear from all of this. The government is lying, and not only that, they are doing quite a bad job at it. The Senate hearing on the ZTE-NBN deal makes all the high-ranking government officials sound like a bunch of nincompoops. It really makes you wonder why they occupy such prestigious government positions in the first place. Lying in the Senate hearing is really much more difficult than lying in the ordinary courts. In the Senate, you have like half a dozen senators tediously asking you to repeat every little bit of information you have just stated. They are patiently waiting for the inconsistencies to surface as go along your prepared speech. So if you are not telling the truth, or if you have not 100 percent memorized your concocted story, you will definitely look an eejit in front of national tv. In this case, you don’t need to be the proverbial rocket scientist to know who is telling the truth. Thank God for Lozada.

Jun Lozada or J Lo for FG Arroyo, is what you call the classic unwilling hero. He is not clearly the saint that senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Santiago are looking for, which is almost non-existent, but he is a hero in my opinion nonetheless. It takes an enormous amount of will power and gumption to go against the powers that be in the government. Not everybody is willing to risk his life and limb just for the Truth to come out. Just think of Neri, Atienza, Defensor, Razon, Bunye, et al to know how difficult it is to tell a simple truth to the public. These government henchmen’s resolve to protect their “boss” far outweigh their desire to help the true ones, “the people,” who provide them their salary and all the other perks they enjoy. It is so easy indeed to be seduced by the dark side. The path towards becoming a Master Jedi is the least road taken. But it is the path that Jun Lozada has taken. As Sen. Mar Roxas said, “May the Force be with you.” And may the force be with us all.

This is not the first time (and I bet you it won’t be the last as long as they remain in power) for the Arroyo government to be caught with its hands on the cookie jar. Who can ever forget the Hello Garci scandal? My officemates (in the government!) had cellphone ringtones in that tune. I listened to the downloadable version of that conversation on the net regardless of what the moldy DOJ Secretary Gonzales was then saying. He threatened to prison everybody who will bother to listen to it as he argued that it was an act against national security. It was an act against the security of PGMA, her questionable tenure of power, but when did she ever represent the nation, the communal interest of people? PGMA does not exactly constitute national security especially since she primarily serves the interest of the elite and chosen few who fight to keep her in power. It is the right and duty of every citizen to know. The government’s main responsibility is to bolster that right and not to smother or downright kill it. Just recently, I heard in the news that the Supreme Court upheld in its ruling that that “illegally” wiretapped sound file can be legally played in Congress for everybody to hear. But that is beside the point of course, as every Dick and Harry, or rather to be more culturally correct, Pedro and Juan, in the country has heard it and knows what that fuss is all about.

Which brings us to the point, what has Comelec Chairman Abalos got to do with a government broadband connection deal? Why is he even a part of the picture when he cannot offer any technical expertise on the matter? And why is he so adamant on his demand for a kickback according to both Jun Lozada and Joey De Venecia’s expose? This was even corroborated by Romula Neri’s damning statement in the Senate, “Sec, me 200 ka dito.” Neri said he understood that statement to be his Php 200 million share of Abalos’ kickback. I can only logically surmise that Abalos possesses such a clout on the government for one reason alone: they owe him something. And what favor can you possibly ask from a Comelec Chairman whose main task is the counting and calculation of votes come election time? You tell me. It isn’t hard to connect the dots after all.

JDV in his final speech as House Speaker insinuated about the cheating in the 2004 elections. However, he safely followed it up with a statement that he will reveal what he knows in a more proper forum. He also mentioned another government project that was supposed to be overpriced. Relatedly, during the questioning of Lozada he also brought up the North Luzon Railways project as another overpriced government that he knows of. According to him, it was overpriced by at least US$70 million dollars. However, it was pushed through without any hitch as it falls under the category of what he termed as “moderate greed.” What Abalos was asking for almost constituted 50% of the entire amount of the deal itself which was originally pegged at about US$150-200 million dollars. Therefore, what Neri tasked Lozada to do was to simply ask Abalos to lessen his amount of kickback to half of his original demand. To which Abalos angrily retorted, “Ang hirap nyo’ng kausap. Kalimutan nyo na lang ang usapan.” (You people are hard to talk to. Just forget about our deal.) Lozada also matter of factly stated that all government projects are overpriced by about 20% of the total amount of the project to accommodate for the kickbacks.

The last statement did not surprise me at all. What did surprise me was Senator Gordon’s reaction to Lozada’s allegedly marvelous claim of corruption in the government. He claimed that Lozada should have been outright indignant about the corruption as even as single centavo or peso of stolen money is valuable and that he should have not accepted the proposition of Neri in the first place out of the purity of his conscience. I am surprised and a little bit disturbed by Gordon’s sentiment as I know that he has been a public servant for such a long time. Surely, he knows how government conducts its business. That corruption is part and parcel of government affairs is a common knowledge. In fact, the people almost expect it, what they simply do not want is for the government to be intemperate in its greed to the point of robbing them of all of the public resources. Just like the memorable Malaysian leader, Mahathir Mohammed, once said (in reference to the US), “You are permitted to take advantage of us but do it on our terms.”

This is precisely why the government’s act of discrediting Lozada via Senators Miriam Santiago, Joker Arroyo and others will not hold water. The insufferable Sen. Santiago accused Lozada of being culpable of corruption himself as he also enacted government projects without proper bidding during his term as President of Philippine Forest Corporation,( a semi-government entity to which Lozada tendered his irrevocable resignation before his expose) and that he had unduly used his influence when he chose his own wife as the agent to supply his own government funded insurance amounting to Php 5 million pesos. Lozada did not flinch when he admitted to his own mistakes and acts of corruption. Moreso, Santiago lost her point to pin down Lozada on his wrongdoings when he said, “That is why I am testifying here at the Senate. I may have been seduced by the dark side but I fear that if I push through with this project, I will lose my entire soul with it. I am trying to save what is left of my soul and conscience.” (This is not a verbatim of Lozada’s statement; just a paraphrasing of it.)

Another tale that I won’t forget out of this sordid revelation is Lozada’s brief recollection of a farmer’s tale of simplicity and kindness. He said that on his one sojourn in the province, he saw a tree burdened of ripe guavas and asked the farmer who owned the tree why he didn’t harvest it to sell those produce in the market. The farmer, in his battered rubber sandals (tsinelas) and hole-ridden sando, answered, “Sir, we just leave them there so that the birds could eat something.” You may accuse this farmer of lack of ingenuity and creativity but you cannot accuse him of greed and corruption. Simple folks such as this man may lack all the trappings of the “good life” but it doesn’t mean that that he won’t be able to live a good life. In fact, he may live the best life of all as he is happy and contented with his lot unlike our government officials who squabble and are never contented with their share of millions of pesos and dollars. Do they sleep fitfully at night knowing that they took away all that money that could have been channeled for that farmer’s health care benefits, his children’s education, the livelihood projects of his community, for the construction of roads, hospitals and bridges that could benefit that farmer's life and all the people like him for the better? They may have the grandest and most plush beds that money could buy but one thing they can never have is that simple man’s good sleep. That is, if they still have some conscience and soul left in their systems. Sadly, as exemplified by the recent turn of events, most of our government officials have lost theirs beyond redemption.

In his interview just this morning, Mr. Jun Lozada was asked about his message to PGMA, the mover behind it all, and he exhorted her to “please step into the light.” When one sees the light, will we have the courage to embrace it and do the right thing just like Lozada did? Or would we hover around the corners of darkness just like most of our government officials out of fear for their own behinds? Or worse still, will we choose to order the light out and have it quashed just like PGMA did when she sanctioned the kidnapping/joy-ride of Lozada? I sincerely hope that in our own little moments of reckoning we may have the same courage that Jun Lozada has and still do the right thing in the end.

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