Impunity and Dictatorship

The way the Macapagal-Arroyo administration disposed of an ally former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, and kidnapped a government official Rodolfo Jun Lozada reek of impunity. And impunity, if left unchecked, would usher in a full-blown dictatorship.

Vol VIII, No. 2, February 10-16, 2008

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her minions struck down former Speaker Jose De Venecia with 174 knives and kidnapped Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada after he embarked from the plane, it’s as if she was telling us, “What are we in power for?” For the way these were carried out reeks of impunity.

They easily disposed of a loyal ally just because his son Jose De Venecia III did a decent thing: expose the corruption involved in the approval of a grossly disadvantageous and overpriced contract with ZTE of China to build a National Broadband Network (NBN) for the government. The sons of Arroyo, (in)honorable Mikey and Dato, had the temerity to mask their sinister scheme with promises of “change” and “reforms.” Well, if there are persons who sorely need change, it is the Arroyo family, and if there is a government that badly needs reforms it is the Arroyo government.

Just as easily did the Philippine National Police (PNP) kidnap Jun Lozada in front of passengers and airport employees, even as Lozada’s wife and the Senate sergeant-at-arms were anxiously waiting at the arrival area, because they feared that he would reveal before the Senate what he knows about the NBN-ZTE contract. The PNP had the callousness to kidnap Lozada then claim that they were just protecting him. If it were not for the bad publicity the kidnapping generated, Lozada would have been kept from his family and resurfaced only if they are sure he would keep his mouth shut. Well, if there is someone who has the motive to harm Lozada it is not his wife but the Arroyo government; if there is an institution that can best protect him, it is not the PNP nor the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but the Senate, which is interested not in silencing him but in bringing him in as witness.

What is common in these two recent events is its connection with the anomalous NBN-ZTE contract. What these two events reveal is that impunity pervades not only in the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists and in the murders and harassments of journalists; not only in the filing of trumped-up charges against government critics and in the violent dispersals of rallies and picket-lines; not only in corruption and bribery involving government officials; but also in bulldozing democratic processes.

Nothing is sacred and no one is safe anymore, everything can be violated in the name of naked self-interest, in pursuit of power and wealth.

But there is something more to these recent events. With the ouster of Jose De Venecia from the speakership and the impending merger of Kampi and Lakas-NUCD, the Arroyo government has further tightened its grip on the House of Representatives. For sure the new speaker Rep. Prospero Nograles would have to follow the whims and caprices of the Arroyo family lest he suffer the same fate as his predecessor. The real power in the Lower House lies not in Nograles’s hands but in the hands of the Arroyo brothers.

With the kidnapping of Lozada, the Arroyo government stepped on the shoes of the Senate. It has shown that the power of the Senate is subordinate to the power of the executive. What greater slap is there to the Senate than when the enforcement of its order was underhandedly preempted by the Arroyo administration. The Arroyo government is no longer content with ignoring and stonewalling the investigations of the Senate, it is already undermining it.

Among the three branches of government, it is now only the judiciary that can check the proclivity of the executive in abusing its power. But that is where Raul Gonzalez is holding fort. And he is not known for dispensing justice and enforcing the rule of law but in committing injustices and bending laws. So only the Supreme Court is left with the enormous task of putting the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in line. But the Supreme Court, even with an activist Chief Justice such as Reynato Puno, is a reactive institution. Someone must file a complaint before it can act. Worse, the Arroyo government with one bold sweep of the pen can clip the powers of the Supreme Court by suspending the writ of habeas corpus or declaring Martial Law, as was the case during the Marcos fascist dictatorship.

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