By ELLEN TORDESILLAS
ONE year after he survived abduction by a government team, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, a star witness in the aborted $329.5-million national broadband project, finds himself in a curious situation.
He is in danger of being thrown to jail on charges of perjury and graft filed against him by persons involved in his kidnapping. At the same time, he is also being sent feelers, purportedly from Malacañang, promising him hefty compensation in exchange for a retraction of all that he has said regarding the planned project with the Chinese firm, ZTE Corp. and a public apology to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
But Lozada told VERA Files in an interview last week, “No way.”
He said that about three months ago, a Malacañang emissary told him that President Arroyo was willing to welcome him back to the fold, complete with a huge compensation package, if he would publicly apologize to her and take back all that he had revealed about the behind-the-scenes deal with the Chinese firm. Lozada declined the offer.
It was the latest twist in a series of events for the man who, on Feb. 5, 2008, was picked up at the airport by a team led by an officer of the Philippine National Police. Lozada had just arrived from Hong Kong where he tried to make himself scarce from legislators who wanted him to face a Senate inquiry into the reportedly overpriced telecommunications project.
Lozada’s troubles started when he was called by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to testify in its investigation of the allegedly overpriced telecommunications deal with ZTE. Lozada, a close friend of Romy Neri, then head of the National Economic and Development Authority, served as NEDA consultant and was privy to the backroom dealings involving Benjamin Abalos, former chair of the Commission on Elections, who brokered the deal, and Mike Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Arroyo.
Fearful that he would be forced to tell the truth, Lozada evaded the Senate invitation and went to Hong Kong with the full support of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza and Deputy Executive Secretary Manuel Gaite, who sent him P500,000 in shopping money.
When Lozada came back, he was met at the airport by airport and police officers, including NAIA Assistant General Manager Angel Atutubo, then Chief Supt. Romeo Hilomen of the Police Security and Protection Office, Senior Supt. Paul Mascariñas, and retired M/Sgt. Rodolfo Valeroso who was working with the Aviation Security Group.
Lozada was taken to Laguna and Libis and then back to Metro Manila. He would later tell the Senate inquiry that former presidential chief of staff Mike Defensor had given him P50,000 and told him to call a press conference to deny that he was kidnapped.
On Feb. 7, 2008, Lozada did appear in a press conference at 2 a.m. in La Salle Greenhills but said instead that not only was he kidnapped but that he believed persons close to Malacañang had a hand in his abduction. He also said that the incident had something to do with the ZTE deal.
Information from Malacañang sources said the abduction came about because the Palace had panicked and wanted to make sure that the Senate did not get custody of Lozada.
Lozada, who remains sheltered by the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) and the La Salle Brothers, is facing a perjury charge filed by Defensor. Lozada’s wife, Violet, is out on bail for the perjury case filed by members of the PNP who abducted her husband. The charge stemmed from the writ of habeas corpus that she filed before the Court of Appeals on Feb. 6, asking the PNP to produce her husband.
In addition, Lozada is embroiled in a theft case filed by a woman he swore he never met in his life.
Lozada’s lawyer, Edwin Lacierda, describes the theft case as “so ridiculous, it shows the length those people would go to destroy Jun.”
A certain Milagros Garcia claimed that one day in January 2008, she was standing with a friend in front of the Insular Life building in Alabang when a car stopped in front of them. The man driving the car asked for directions going to Portofino, an Italian-style residential area not far from Alabang Town Center.
In her affidavit, Garcia said that out of the goodness of her heart, she hopped into the vehicle and led the driver to Portofino. Upon reaching Portofino, she got off and went her own way.
After a while, Garcia said she realized she had left her bag containing P113,000 in the car. The next day, while she was watching TV, she saw Lozada and recognized him as the driver of the car where she claimed she left her bag.
The Muntinlupa City prosecutor dismissed the case but Garcia has appealed to the Department of Justice.
Lozada is also facing malversation and graft cases in the Ombudsman. The malversation charge is in connection with the P19.6-million fund supposedly intended for the jathropa project of the Philippine Forest when Lozada was president.
The graft case involved the allegedly anomalous purchase of motor vehicles, fencing materials and other equipment worth P15 million.
Lozada has fought back and filed kidnapping and attempted murder charges against persons he believed were involved in his abduction, namely Atienza, then PNP Chief Avelino Razon, Atutubo, Hilomen, Mascariñas, and Valeroso.
One year has passed and the case is still with the DOJ awaiting resolution. Taking note of the reason given by prosecutors in the case of the Alabang Boys that they had to come out with a resolution within 90 days as required by law, Lozada wonders why that deadline does not seem to apply to his complaint.
None of those involved in the kidnapping was punished. They either remained in their positions of power or have moved on to higher positions. Upon retirement, Razon was named deputy national security adviser. He is now the presidential adviser on the peace process.
Four months after the abduction, Mascariñas was awarded his first star promoting him to chief superintendent. He is now deputy regional director for administration in MIMAROPA (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan).
Hilomen got his reward much, much earlier. He was promoted to the position of Ilocos region police chief a few weeks after the kidnapping incident.
Under the PNP promotions system, an officer cannot be promoted to a higher rank if he/she has a pending criminal case. Many are wondering how Hilomen and Mascariñas were able to get a clearance from the Ombudsman.
The writ of amparo that was filed by Jun’s brother, Arthur Lozada, has been dismissed by the Court of Appeals. It is now on appeal with the Supreme Court.
Other personalities involved in the deal that could have defrauded the Filipino people of P14.8 billion are pursuing other careers.
Abalos was forced to resign as Comelec chair and is proudly promoting family-produced “hamberjers.”
Neri is now chair of the Social Security System. Defensor is in the mining business and continues to maintain close ties with Malacañang.
Jose de Venecia III, president of Amsterdam Holdings, the losing bidder in the NBN project, and who exposed the bribery attempt by Abalos, is eyeing a Senate seat in 2010.
The tribulations that came with siding with the truth and standing against the powerful have taken a toll on his children, Lozada said. He is concerned that his adolescent son is losing faith in God and is questioning why God is tolerating the triumph of evil. “All we could tell him is that God’s ways are difficult to fathom but we just have to trust Him,” he said.
In these trying times, Lozada said he is sustained not just by the support of his family, friends and the religious communities but also by the “genuine affection of total strangers and the respect of the youth.”
His life-changing decision a year ago has also taught him that “if the opposite of fear in the English language is bravery or courage, the opposite of fear in real life is faith.”
He has received offers from foreign governments for asylum if he decides to leave the country. But Lozada said he is not walking out on the Filipino people.
“If there is anyone who must be asked to leave this country, it is those who have caused its ruin. GMA must go first and the rest of her cabal,” he said.