Aquino told: Lozada, key witness vs Arroyo, must be secured
The Aquino administration has failed to protect whistle-blower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada from a supposed harassment suit brought against him by the Arroyo regime, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday.
Cayetano said the Aquino administration should have given Lozada immunity from suit, as the information technology expert is a key witness against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in graft cases that the government had brought against the former president.
Lozada said on Thursday that six armed men in civvies came to his house in Pasig City looking for him last Saturday and on Monday.
He said he felt he was being harassed and, scared, he returned to the protection of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday said she had sent “real NBI agents” to the AMRSP safe house to protect Lozada and his family following reports of supposed National Bureau of Investigation agents going after him.
No arrest order
De Lima told reporters that there were no orders from either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the NBI for Lozada’s arrest.
“[I]t is a sad day for this administration, because it is a day for those who are persecuting whistle-blowers and it’s a day that we are sending a message to whistle-blowers that we’ll go after you instead of the people you’re exposing,” said Cayetano, who is running for reelection in May as a candidate of the administration’s Team PNoy.
“What if Jun Lozada says, ‘You arrest me, I will face this, but I will now shut up on the ZTE case?’” Cayetano said at a news conference.
The Sandiganbayan ordered Lozada arrested on graft charges on Jan. 23 in connection with leasehold rights he issued to his brother and to a private company with links to him and his wife when he was president of Philippine Forestry Corp. in 2007.
The case was filed after he disclosed in 2008 alleged overpricing in the Arroyo administration’s $329-million broadband Internet project involving the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE.
His disclosure embarrassed Arroyo, whose husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, was implicated in the alleged overpricing by a losing bidder for the project’s contract, Joey de Venecia III, son of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.
Lozada and De Venecia claimed that the project was overpriced to allow for kickbacks for Mike Arroyo and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos Sr., who allegedly brokered the contract for ZTE.
The scandal forced Gloria Arroyo to scrap the contract and the project altogether.
The Arroyos, Abalos and former National Economic and Development Authority Director General Romulo Neri, who approved the contract, are facing graft charges in the Sandiganbayan involving the aborted project.
Lozada told the Inquirer on Thursday that he was unaware of the Sandiganbayan’s order to arrest him.
He returned to the AMRSP for security after the armed men came looking for him, he said.
He said he would face the charges against him, but questioned President Aquino’s taking the side of his accuser, Erwin Santos, his former program manager at Philippine Forestry Corp. whom Gloria Arroyo persuaded to testify against him, presumably in retaliation for his disclosure of the ZTE deal.
Arroyo appointed Santos to replace Lozada in the forestry office and President Aquino retained Santos when he took over in 2010.
Lozada said documents he needed to defend himself in the graft case were in his old office, now occupied by Santos.
Malacañang said on Thursday that the Ombudsman had found sufficient basis to file charges in court against Lozada.
Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the Ombudsman was an independent body, and that there was little the Palace could do to intervene in Lozada’s case.
Lozada must go with the legal process, Carandang said.
Cayetano said he agreed that there should be no “backroom talks” between the Palace and the Ombudsman. “But don’t tell me that the government cluster including the [DOJ] cannot figure out legally how to help their key witness,” he said.
At the DOJ, De Lima told reporters that she had given no orders for Lozada’s arrest and that she had ordered an investigation into Lozada’s report about supposed NBI agents looking for him
“There is no such order [for the NBI to arrest Lozada]. Not from anyone, not from me, not from [NBI] Director Nonnatus Rojas. And so, clearly, those men were impostors,” De Lima said.
She said NBI agents were posted at the AMRSP safe house on Friday to secure Lozada and his family.
Lacson gives bail money
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday confirmed reports that he gave Lozada and the whistle-blower’s brother, Jose Orlando, money for bail to avoid arrest.
“I just thought he shouldn’t feel abandoned after he sacrificed his gainful job at the Philippine Forestry Corp., even his family’s security when he spoke the truth about the shenanigans [in] the Arroyo regime,” Lacson said in a text message to the Inquirer.
He said he gave the money to the Lozadas about two months ago after learning that the Ombudsman had filed charges against them.
Lacson said he used his personal money and made it clear that Lozada did not come to him for financial help. With a report from Jerome Aning
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