He was on good terms with the authorities, agile, flexible, and even audacious when it came to speculating with other people’s property. He was the only rival, and a frightening one at that, of a man named Pérez when it came to rents and auctions of merchandise or jobs that the Philippine Government entrusts to private individuals.
– Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, Chapter 6: Captain Tiago, (Harold Augenbraum Translation)
Criminal justice will come, but now is the time to take political action. The testimony of Rodolfo Lozada, Jr., made under oath before the Senate, gives us the moral certainty to condemn the massive corruption in the ZTE-NBN deal. With the suggestion that a similar anomaly most likely attended the South Rail project, along with other previous scandals, the ZTE-NBN is not an isolated case of unbridled corruption.
And at what scale! For the ordinary Filipino families, 50% of whom earn a meager income of less than Php 300 per day, the kickback amounting to US$130 million—which Lozada said “Commission” Chairman Benjamin Abalos asked him to protect—is mind boggling.
Very revolting, too, was the abduction of Mr. Lozada abduction, upon the order of Malacañang. Here is an instance in which the Palace micromanaged, and mangled, a kidnapping to silence a whistleblower.
What was plunder by a colonial government in Rizal’s time is now plunder by a Mafia occupying Malacañang. The first family is the capo di tutti capi, the boss of all bosses. The Macapagal-Arroyo family has turned the Philippine government into a mafia family, with Cabinet men, congressmen, and other functionaries as their mob lieutenants. We have state capture not by the elite but by a Filipino mafia headed by the first family.
The Philippines is not lacking in laws and institutions against corruption and plunder. The 1987 Constitution devotes an entire article of 18 sections (Article XI) to provisions on accountability of public officers. The Revised Penal Code punishes malfeasance and misfeasance in office of public officers, including bribery, frauds against the public treasury, and malversation of public funds. The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, expands the punishable corrupt practices even further. Republic Act 7080 defines and penalizes the crime of plunder. We have a powerful Office of the Ombudsman, with the duty to investigate and prosecute illegal acts or omissions by public officers and employees. We also have a special court, the Sandiganbayan, with jurisdiction to try high-ranking public officials for graft and corruption. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) has created the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission to investigate and hear administrative cases and complaints against erring Presidential Appointees, and to assist the President in the campaign against graft and corruption.
Much effort has been undertaken to address chronic corruption. Multilateral and bilateral donors, economists and policy analysts, and non-government organizations have studied the problem and proposed anti-corruption strategies and programs. The measures adopted have been comprehensive and deep. These include regulatory reforms, agency-level reforms and capacity building, judicial reforms, changes in the procurement law, strengthening of the anti-corruption lead agencies, and introduction of various anti-corruption activities such as lifestyle checks and values formation.
Despite all this, what is missing is the simplest answer to the problem: Fighting corruption is a question of leadership.
Since the leadership itself is brazenly engaged in plunder, corruption remains unabated. Under the leadership of a non-corrupt president, anti-corruption programs and institutions will be effective. Under a corrupt presidency, the same programs and institutions only become a protective veil for corruption itself. GMA’s public reaction to the testimony of Lozada is instructive. She was reported to have ordered the Department of Justice to investigate Lozada’s testimony. The Justice Secretary was quick to dismiss Lozada’s testimony as part of a “drama.”
The plunder exemplified by the ZTE-NBN deal goes all the way up to GMA. In the testimony of Joey de Venecia, GMA’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, was a central figure in securing the kickback. The candid, credible and detailed testimony of Jun Lozada, in relation to his abduction and the overpricing of the ZTE-NBN contract points to Malacañang as the culprit. It is crystal clear that the buck does not stop at Mike Arroyo. His influence is crucial not because of his own accord, but of whom he represents: the exercise of the power and prerogatives of the highest executive of the land.
GMA is using her vast powers and resources of the State to scuttle the Senate investigation: The issuance of the unconstitutional Executive Order 464 that prevents Cabinet officials from appearing in Senate inquiries, the invocation of executive privilege in the testimony of former NEDA Director General Romulo Neri on the question of GMA’s approval of the corrupt ZTE-NBN deal, and the abduction of Lozada to prevent him from testifying.
With GMA’s repeated betrayal of the public trust, she has no right to sit as President a minute longer. All other officials involved in the ZTE-NBN deal, including Secretary Romy Neri, DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, and members of the NEDA-ICC must step down from their government posts. The officials involved in the abduction of Jun Lozada and its cover-up in the media, such as PNP Chief Avelino Razon, Secretary Lito Atienza and DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno, must likewise step down.
We must expunge the Philippine Mafia.