In a strange twist of fate, self-styled whistleblower Jun Lozada on Wednesday appeared as a witness and an accused in two graft cases in the same Sandiganbayan division.
In the first case, Lozada and his younger brother Jose Orlando pleaded not guilty to graft charges in connection with the allegedly anomalous lease of government lands during Lozada’s term as president of the Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest).
Lozada, supported by his lawyer, Manuel Diokno, and several nuns from the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), pleaded not guilty on the two counts of graft filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the deal.
A seemingly relaxed Lozada faced the antigraft court’s 4th Division during his arraignment that lasted only 20 minutes. He earlier posted a P90,000 bail which was reportedly paid for by the members of AMRSP and Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Diokno said he was confident his client would be acquitted of the charges. The court set the pretrial hearing for April 3.
A second hearing was held in the same division, this time with Lozada as the government’s key witness in the graft case against former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the latter’s husband, Mike Arroyo, and several others, in connection with the allegedly anomalous $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal.
The Lozada brothers were the defendants in the first graft case involving the award of a 6.59-hectare leasehold right to Orlando on Dec. 18, 2009, under the Lupang Hinirang program of PhilForest, which Lozada used to head.
In the second graft case, Lozada was the lone accused for allegedly awarding leasehold rights to Transforma Quinta Inc., a private company that he and his wife, Maria Violeta, represented.
Lozada has claimed in his defense that the government or any other party did not suffer “actual damages or undue injury” from the deal. He claimed that the lands involved were unproductive and even benefited from the money earned from the transactions.
In the case against the Arroyos, Lozada affirmed his earlier testimonies at the Senate hearings in 2007, in which he linked the Arroyo couple and former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. to the scrapped $329-million broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
Mike Arroyo, who was at the hearing, said he was confident he and his wife would be acquitted.
“She is ailing. She is still in pain. Last night, she had so much pain in her legs,” he said of the former President who is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on plunder charges.
On direct examination, Lozada said it was former socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri who ordered him to review the merits of the national broadband project proposed by Abalos.
He said it was Abalos who had brokered the NBN deal with ZTE. He said the proposed deal with ZTE had a cost of $260 million while a rival proposal of Amsterdam Holdings headed by Joey de Venecia III was only for $130 million.
Lozada will return to the witness stand on Thursday for the cross-examination.