Whose face mask is being unmasked?

The problem with sourcing information from Davao city is that it always leads to a request for anonymity. There is always that expressed fear of retribution. “It is suicide,” one declares. The Davao Death Squad is real, as proven time and again by first-person testimonies of former DDS hit men. DDS can kill critics and those who spite the benefactors of the DDS who are in high government positions. It is a complex issue that contains a totality of very real threats to truth telling.

One such source had a very personal encounter with Lloyd Christopher Lao. “Lao was my student in law school. He is also a Lex Talionis fraternity brother of Duterte. Bong Go is trying to distance himself from Lao but Lao himself told me he was an aide of Go. In one instance at HLURB, he bragged to me about spending 75% of his time in Malacañang despite being CEO of HLURB. In fact Lao and I have common friends with A1 information. Before the senate subpoenaed him, he was set to fly abroad to escape investigation. His visa was ready.”

Compare the denials. Go’s had a most distinctive privilege: It was reported by the government’s own news agency. He said that Lao “did not report directly to him.” Lao, on the other hand, couched his denial this way: He has had no ties with Go.

What are the findings? Our source is Lao himself. On his profile at the Department of Budget Procurement Service, he says he was “Chief Executive Officer and Commissioner of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB); Undersecretary of the Presidential Management Staff – Office of the Special Assistant to the President” prior to his DBM appointment on January 2, 2020.

Lao is singularly special. On his first government appointment, he immediately landed a top post, that of undersecretary to then Special Assistant to the President Go. He not only knew Go. He had ties with him; above all, he was given a position of confidence. In fact, he would sign on Go’s behalf, as attested to by Probinsyano Ako party list congressman Jose Singson (see photo on the link of the document he had signed).

Lao was a point man in Go’s office. As early as in January 2018, his name had already been published as “undersecretary at the office of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go.” This was on the prominent role Lao played in the controversial frigates deal of the Philippine Navy, when the office of the SAP had intervened. If both Go and Lao deny their ties now, they did not deny this in 2018 in that same article: “Lao was one of Go’s most important aides as he dealt with all confidential investigations into presidential appointees and was among core officials who oversaw the finalization of Duterte’s appointments. Lao is perceived to have so much of Go’s trust that his communications are interpreted as instructions from Go himself.”

For both Lao and Go, it is too late to lie at this point. We do not forget – simply because we have the records.

In the meantime, the plot has thickened. Of course, plots always thicken when there are multiple actors who may have conspired. Michael Yang, the former economic adviser of Duterte (who is not Filipino but Chinese), Peking duck lunch host of Duterte in Beijing in August 2019, and named by an anti-drug operative of the Philippine National Police as having alleged drug links, had surfaced again. An owner of the extremely fortunate Pharmally Pharmaceutical, which the DBM’s Government Procurement Policy Board website says bagged the whopping PhP8,680,615,216.00 contract for overpriced face masks and face shields, has ties to Yang. Does this matrix still surprise us?

So who is being unmasked? Not Lao. If Lao will be prosecuted, he will just be the fall guy. The amount involved here is gigabucks. This was stealing big time. That kind of corruption can only mean it should go all the way up. And if it goes all the way up to Go, it may also mean going all the way up to Duterte.

Go has declined the Alfonso Cusi PDP-Laban faction nomination for president. But many see it as a circus.

What we see is a front-seat preview of how Go will deport himself if he is president: He will have a trail of alalays who, when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, will deny they are related.

Go calling senator Richard Gordon in the midst of the Lao interpellations and pleading not to implicate him was eloquent: a one-trick pony who will leave his foot soldiers behind to face prosecution. It is expertise at impunity.

Go and, eventually, Duterte are being unmasked here. Hence, we watch if Go’s reflexes will grant him a whimper and a bang for 2022. If not, this Lao scandal will be his blueprint for fallibility in 2022 that no amount of reflex and Duterte sting can manage to arrest.

The Senate should investigate Go now, just as it did Leila de Lima. Leila de Lima is in jail for trumped up charges because of enabler senators. This one has the potential undercurrent for hard, straight evidence.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.