Buencamino writes political commentary for and is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror March 12,2008 edition, p. A10

Jun Lozada testified that Environment Secretary Lito Atienza phoned him during his joyride with his kidnappers and told him not to worry because he had been talking with “Ma’am” and “ES,” and they assured him they were on top of the situation.

That was supposed to make Lozada feel warm and fuzzy with complete strangers under the control of “Ma’am.”

Here’s  “Ma’am” and “Garci” in 2004, caught on tape talking about Rashma Hali, an election officer from Tipo-Tipo, Basilan who, like Lozada, was going to testify about anomalies:

Garci: “Hello.”

Ma’am: “Hello, did you get my text about the Tipo-Tipo?”

Garci: “Oho, oho Ma’am kwan ho that’s what I’m being fearful about, Kung si Rashma Hali yun, that’s why we’re asking people to look for her.”

Ma’am: “She’s probably already being held by them.”

Garci: “Ma’am?”

Ma’am: “She’s being held by them already.”

Garci: “She is here, that’s why if it is possible we will have (to) get family to call her up from Zamboanga.”

Ma’am: “O sige, okay.” (Alright, okay).

Ma’am calls up Garci again:

Ma’am: “Hello?”

Garci: “Yes ma’am?”

Ma’am: “Hello, ano nahanap na ninyo? Nahanap na ninyo iyong sa Tipo-Tipo?” (Hello, have you found her yet? Have you found that one from Tipo-Tipo?)

Garci: “Tipo-Tipo, hindi pa. Ang iaano nila ngayon kaya nga.…(Tipo-Tipo, not yet….)” (Line cut.)

The next conversation is Garci talking to a certain Boy about kidnapping Rashma Hali with the aid of ISAFP (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) agents:

Boy: “Hello, Sir.”

Garci: “Mmm,”

Boy: “Mmm…si Rashma parang nandiyan sa Manila.” (Mmmm…seems like Rashma is there in Manila.)

Garci: “Nasa Maynila?!” (In Manila?!)

Boy: “M-mmm.”

Garci: “Talaga, delikado. Hindi ba natin makontak?” (Really, that’s dangerous. Can’t we contact her?)

Boy: “Walang…walang ano…in-off ang cellphone. Pinapahanap ko sa ISAFP.” (She turned off her cellphone. I asked the ISAFP to look for her.)

Garci: “Uhh, baka si…ahh, si kuwan…delikado yan.” (Uhh, maybe it’s …ahh it’s aaah…that’s dangerous.)

Boy: “Oo nga, sabi ko…sabi ko sa ISAFP…dito na ipadala sa ano, sa Zamboanga…para may bargaining chip tayo diyan.” (Yes indeed, I told…I told the ISAFP…take her here, to Zamboanga…so we have a bargaining chip there.)

Garci: “M-mmm.”

Boy: “…Eh damputin na natin yun pamilya din niya.” (Well let’s kidnap her family, too.)

Garci: “Ah, oo.”  (Ah, ok.)

Boy: “Siya mak-ano…makapagsalita.”  (She can uh… speak.)

Garci: “Oo nga,” (That’s right.)

Boy: “Kasi delikado yan, eh.”  (Because that’s dangerous.)

Garci: “Maghanap ka ng…yung well-meaning na kamag-anak…huwag mo munang ipaki-kidnap yung pamilya. Ah…soft touch muna…na puwedeng maka-persuade sa kanya, o makapag….” (Look for a well-meaning relative…don’t have the family kidnapped yet. Ah…soft touch first…something that can persuade her or can….”  (Line cut.)

Up until Lozada’s kidnapping, the ruling regime has gotten away with the storyline that everyone in the opposition is also a cheat, a liar, and a thief so people power would only hurt the economy without changing anything.  “There is no alternative” was the title of that oft-told tale about the luckiest bitch around, to use Albay governor Joey Salceda’s perfect description of that fairy tale’s heroine.

It was a good storyline that would surely have held a few years more if the ruling regime did not kidnap Lozada and jolted awake those they had lulled to sleep.

Still, it may be too late. A monster was born and grew strong while the public dozed, and it will take more than all the strength and prayers they can muster to save themselves from being devoured by it.

If only they had listened to the Garci tapes instead of those Palace bedtime stories….