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The Lozada Exposés and Prospects

for the Anti-GMA Movement

 

Interview with Jose Maria Sison

Following Lozada’s exposés, rallies and other types of protest actions have become more and more frequent – with several of these demanding no less than the President’s removal or resignation from office, and others demanding truth and accountability. One broadcast journalist, in a special report, has compared the present political situation to the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and the months immediately preceding the People Power II uprising of 2001. Bulatlat interviewed, by e-mail, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison on what he thinks of the Lozada exposés and the resulting political tensions.

 

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 5, March 2-8, 2008

Engr. Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, former president of the Philippine Forest Corporation who served as technical consultant for the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corp., surfaced early February after being sent to Hong Kong and subsequently being snatched at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport upon his return.

 

The NBN project is a $329-million contract that aims to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet.

The deal was signed in Boao, China on April 21, 2007 – when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the then-upcoming senatorial and local elections. It has become controversial for allegedly being overpriced and for supposedly having been signed without going through the proper bidding process. It was also deemed disadvantageous to the country because it was to be financed through a loan from China when, in fact, it could have been done at no cost to the government through a “Build-Operate-Transfer” scheme.

 

In a privileged speech on Aug. 29, 2007, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said it was Abalos who brokered the deal between the Philippine government and ZTE Corp. Padilla also said Abalos was seen playing golf with ZTE officials in Manila and Shenzen. He also accused Abalos of receiving money and women in exchange for brokering the NBN deal.

Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, who heads Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. which is one of the losing bidders in the NBN deal, was the first witness to blow the whistle on the alleged anomalies surrounding the NBN-ZTE contract. He accused former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos of offering him $10 million in exchange for backing out of the NBN deal – an accusation the former Comelec chief has denied. De Venecia also revealed that in a meeting he had with Abalos in Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, presidential spouse Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo pointed a finger to his face and told him to “back off” from the deal.

 

As controversy built up over the NBN deal, reports also went rife that Abalos had bribed or tried to bribe a number of government officials - including Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman and former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general Romulo Neri – in exchange for approving or supporting the approval of the project.

 

Neri, in a Senate investigation, confirmed that Abalos had offered him P200 million ($4.33 million at last year’s average exchange rate of $1:P46.15) – a revelation that provoked public indignation leading the latter to resign from his Comelec post.

 

Lozada confirmed, among other things, allegations that the NBN deal was overpriced, saying its costs had been padded by no less than $130 million.

 

He not only confirmed that the NBN contract was overpriced by $130 billion: he also confirmed Abalos’ involvement as a supposed broker in the deal, as well as the bribe attempt on Neri. He went a step further and disclosed that Abalos was frequently calling up presidential spouse Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo in the course of the bidding and deliberations on the NBN project.

 

Besides these, Lozada said, it was standard practice to overprice government projects by 20 percent. The overprice on the NBN deal is so far the biggest under the Arroyo administration, whose list of overpriced projects includes the Call Centers in State Universities project (P575 million, or $12.46 million based on last year’s average exchange rate, in “unaccounted” funds), the President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue project (overpriced by P536 million or $10.51 million at the 2001 average exchange rate of $1:P50.99), the Cyber Education project, the IMPSA deal, and the Comelec counting machines.

 

Lozada’s testimonies came in the same week that the elder De Venecia was ousted from the House Speakership and replaced by staunch Malacañang ally Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles. The elder De Venecia is said to have earned Malacañang’s ire for failing to stop his son from testifying on the NBN scam.

 

Following Lozada’s exposés, rallies and other types of protest actions have become more and more frequent – with several of these demanding no less than the President’s removal or resignation from office, and others demanding truth and accountability. One broadcast journalist, in a special report, has compared the present political situation to the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and the months immediately preceding the People Power II uprising of 2001.

 

Bulatlat interviewed, by e-mail, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison on what he thinks of the Lozada exposés and the resulting political tensions. The interview was conducted after the Feb. 25 rally spearheaded by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) in Manila to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the historic People Power I uprising, and a few days before the Feb. 29 interfaith rally in Makati City which yielded a huge turnout.

 

Sison taught literature and social science courses at his alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP), and the Lyceum of the Philippines in the 1960s.

 

Following is the full text of Bulatlat’s interview with him:

 

What are your views on the Lozada exposés and their impact on public opinion?

The attempt of the Arroyo regime to silence Lozada by kidnapping him and the revelations that he has made have outraged the broad masses of the people and have offered the possibility of ousting the regime through the mass movement.

 

Do you think the present series of protest actions could eventually lead to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's ouster?

The current series of protest actions are far from enough to oust the illegitimate and corrupt regime.

 

I have not yet seen even only 50,000 in Manila or Makati. I keep on wondering why Bayan is limited to only one column of marchers from only one assembly site like the Welcome Rotunda to Mendiola. I am not yet aware of build-up indoor and outdoor rallies that feed as many as six to ten assembly sites and big columns of marchers from different points in Metro Manila.

 

One hundred thousand demonstrators are the critical mass for persuading the military and police officers to withdraw support from the regime and for attracting several hundreds of thousands more of people to join the protest at the focal point.

 

I hope that Bayan and all other forces will do far better on Feb. 29 than on Feb. 25.

 

What, if any, are the “requirements” that still need to be met by the broad anti-Arroyo movement at this point before the rallies could lead to a People Power-like scenario?

The patriotic and progressive mass organizations must arouse, organize and mobilize the people as they did in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and in the ouster of Marcos and Estrada in1986 and 2001. They must be able to bring together the organized masses and the far larger spontaneous masses in the urban poor communities and in the youth and labor sectors.

 

The anti-Arroyo allies must be persuaded to bring into play their own mass following.

 

The opposition mayors and other leaders in and near the National Capital Region need to be encouraged. The anti-Arroyo religious leaders need to realize their potential for mobilizing the people in the parishes.

Reinforcements can come from the masses in the provinces near the national capital region.

 

Vice President Noli de Castro and ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada have both expressed willingness to take over in the event that Arroyo is forced to step down; what can you say about this?

It is fine if Noli de Castro and Erap step up their opposition to the Arroyo regime.

 

At the same time, I am aware of the current sentiments among the military and police of the reactionary government. A triumvirate of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the Senate President and the highest possible executive official to replace Arroyo could serve as caretaker leadership to supervise snap elections. This is the most acceptable scenario to the military and police officers who wish to withdraw support from the Arroyo regime upon sight of at least 100,000 protesters in Manila or Makati.

 

What do you foresee as prospects for a post-Arroyo leadership?

To consolidate its power, the post-Arroyo leadership in the reactionary government might try, at least for a while, to alleviate the grievous harm and pain that the Arroyo regime has inflicted on the people, seek the support of all patriotic and progressive forces and resume the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

 

Do you think it is possible to expect a post-Arroyo leadership to effect major political and socio-economic reforms?

It is possible for such leadership to offer some major reforms if it is the grateful product of the broad united front or broad mass movement that ousts the Arroyo regime.

 

But if Arroyo continues to hold power up to 2010, she might even put up her own successor in order to assure herself of keeping her loot and preempting the prosecution of her crimes. In that case, the people would be further pushed to place their hopes on the armed revolutionary movement. Bulatlat

 

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