Thursday, February 7, 2008

ZTE Controversy

Official Kidnapping
Rodolfo Lozada Jr., a potential witness in the Senate’s continuing investigation into the ZTE controversy, and the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Senate, was met by airport officials and police officers as soon as he got off the plane Tuesday -- and then vanished.
As of the time of writing, Lozada remains virtually incommunicado, in a still unidentified location. He is, apparently, in police custody -- at least that is what Director General Avelino Razon of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Wednesday.
But Razon has issued misleading statements before, even deliberately; his belated announcement that Lozada, the president of a government corporation with alleged insider knowledge about corruption in ZTE Corp.’s contract to build a national broadband network, was actually in police custody all this time raises legal and moral issues. They can be summed up in one question: Can the police, under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, do whatever it wants?
Consider the following facts that have come to light:
Lozada left the airport in highly unusual circumstances; after he was met right at the airplane door, he did not pass through the immigration or customs counters. This allowed him (and those escorting him) to evade the Senate officials waiting at the airport to arrest him. Is it now the PNP’s responsibility, under Razon, to keep Senate witnesses away from the Senate and its agents?
When Lozada left the airport terminal, he sent a text message to his brother, saying he had been abducted. Razon said Lozada was under the custody of the Police Security and Protection Office, the unit that handles VIP security. Is it now the PNP’s responsibility, under Razon, to detain VIPs against their will?
Lozada’s sister said she saw him hours after he arrived, looking thin and haggard; well, she is reported to have said he’s still alive. She said she could not say, however, where Lozada was being held. Is it now the PNP’s responsibility, under Razon, to coerce visitors into an ominous silence?
Razon waited an inordinate amount of time before declaring that the potential witness -- cited for contempt by the Senate when he unexpectedly left the country -- was in police custody. Is it now the PNP’s responsibility, under Razon, to detain people in secret?
As of the time of writing, Lozada remains out of sight, and separated from his own immediate family. Razon said Lozada had not been kidnapped, because he or his family had in fact requested police protection. But Lozada’s worried wife filed a writ for habeas corpus with the Supreme Court yesterday, to compel the police to present Lozada. If the alleged letter of request is genuine, it is exceedingly curious that Lozada’s wife knew nothing about it. Is it now the PNP’s responsibility, under Razon, to lie, brazenly, to the public it is supposed to serve?
The truth is Razon and certain trusted officers in the PNP are doing Malacañang’s dirty job -- and they know it. Lozada, a close friend of former socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri, has inside information about the ZTE deal. He left the country because he was not ready to testify before the Senate; now that he has come back, the Arroyo administration wants him either to keep silent, or to sing a different tune.
It is not as if this is the first time we’ve seen the Arroyo administration’s unique Witness Protection Program at work. As in the cases of whistleblowers Udong Mahusay and Vidal Doble Jr., the administration’s special operations department enabled potentially hostile witnesses to recant potentially damaging testimony.
Razon’s blithe statement, that the police were ready to present Lozada if the Senate asked for him, is an outrage. Of course, the Senate wants him. That is what his arrest warrant is for: to compel him to testify. And that is exactly why the Senate sergeant-at-arms went to the PNP headquarters, to the very unit Razon identified as holding Lozada in custody.
Is it any surprise that Lozada wasn’t there? This is how a police state is born: First they detain us, and then they make us disappear.

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