The Queen’s Gambit

The Arroyo government seems to have blundered in handling Rodolfo Lozada Jr. from the day the Senate summoned him to testify in a hearing on the NBN-ZTE deal. But the Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s actions concerning Lozada were done with due consideration of the probable consequences to the government. It was all part of the queen’s gambit.

Vol. VII, No. 3, February 17-23, 2008

After hearing the news that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided, February 13, the Philippine Forest Corporation office of Rodolfo Lozada Jr., witness to the anomalies and shady deals in the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with ZTE, one could not help but ask: What the hell is the Arroyo government thinking of when it ordered the raid?

Surely, it does not think that it would escape the public’s mind to link the raid to the fact that Lozada’s testimony pointed to the participation of the president’s husband Miguel Arroyo, and by implication, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself in the shady and graft-ridden deal to impose the grossly overpriced and disadvantageous contract on the Filipino people. The timing is so bad that the NBI and the Justice Department’s justification that it is merely investigating Lozada because of the alleged corrupt practices exposed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago during the Senate hearing could not simply hold water.

The Arroyo government seems to have blundered in handling Lozada from the day the Senate summoned him to testify in a hearing on the NBN-ZTE deal. First, he was sent to Hongkong on the day of the hearing itself. And the Macapagal-Arroyo administration thought that the public would believe that it was not done to prevent him from attending the hearing?

Second, they kidnapped Lozada as soon as he disembarked from his plane at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. And when Lozada’s family raised hell and they were forced to return him – after making him sign a ‘request’ for police security and an affidavit denying the involvement of any government official in the anomalies surrounding the NBN-ZTE contract – they would still insist, with a straight face, that he was merely being given police protection? Who would the public believe, the victim Lozada, who was crying that he was kidnapped, or the government, which is insisting that he was merely being ‘protected’ from ‘threats’ unknown even to his supposed protectors? By the way, former presidential spokesperson and public shock absorber Mike Defensor must be doing very well in his private practice. When Defensor suddenly decided to give Lozada some “assistance” amounting to P50,000, his wife produced the money from her handbag easily. And to think they just came from a party and had no inkling that they would meet with Lozada, that is, if we are to believe his claims.

Third, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration used all the weapons at its disposal during the Senate hearing when Lozada testified. It was obvious that all the president’s men were ganging up on him trying to destroy his credibility by raising questions regarding his morality, his insurance policy, the purchase of vehicles, the expensive goats, among others, which Lozada aptly described as mere “intramurals” compared to the millions of dollars in graft involved in the NBN-ZTE deal. And the Macapagal-Arroyo administration would want us to believe that Lozada did not reveal anything earth-shaking and that all he said was hearsay? In the first place, why risk making the president’s men in the Senate (including Arroyo’s three musketeers: Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Joker Arrroyo) reveal their true colors by acting as defense lawyers for Arroyo if nothing in Lozada’s revelations are credible? Even Sen. Joker Arroyo, who was elected on the basis of his independent-mindedness, pro-human rights stance, and critical views in the past, looked like a joke when he was questioning the “grand conspiracy in government” only to be told that it involved his wife.

Fourth the president’s henchmen from the local government did their part by pushing for charter change (cha-cha) in a feeble attempt to deflect the public’s attention from Lozada’s expose’. Were they expecting that the public would suddenly forget about Lozada and focus on the cha-cha debates?

And the most recent blunder is the NBI raid on Lozada’s office. What is next? The government would file charges against Lozada for corruption? That would be one big joke and blunder.

But the Macapagal-Arroyo administration acted with due consideration of the probable consequences to the government. It was all part of the queen’s gambit.

Perhaps the Macapagal-Arroyo administration hoped that by sending Lozada to Hongkong, it could bide time and make the public lose interest in him. On the contrary, it aroused the public’s interest, making his testimony one of the most-watched Senate hearing, comparable to the Senate impeachment proceedings against former president Joseph Estrada.

The Arroyo government hoped that it could intimidate Lozada into submission when it kidnapped him. By Lozada’s own admission, it did really scare him. In fact, he was so afraid that it made him realize that the only way he can preserve his life is by letting the public know the truth. That was why he tried to reveal everything he knows in an early morning press conference even prior to his appearance in the Senate.

The Arroyo government thought that attacking Lozada’s credibility would weaken his testimony. But it only made him look like a person, with all his frailties, who is simply trying to tell the truth.

The revival of cha-cha is clearly a diversionary tactic. But as the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s source aptly puts it, it might backfire on the government. Even former president Fidel V. Ramos was not able to push through with his plans to amend the constitution in 1997 because of the public’s perception that it was being done to prolong his stay in power. What more with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is now fighting tooth and nail to be able to keep her seat in Malacanang. It would surely enrage the public even more if and when they push for cha-cha.

The Arroyo government clearly lost the gambit in its handling of Lozada and is now paying the consequences of it.

The raid at Lozada’s office and the probable filing of charges is no longer part of the gambit. It is already a counter-attack. It is meant to show probable whistle blowers in the future that the Arroyo government could make his or her life a living hell for telling on the administration. It is wielding its sword and flaunting its impunity. But in a broader sense, it is still a gambit. It is testing how far the public would tolerate the impunity in corruption, in repression, in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, in the harassment and killings of journalists, in the filing of trumped up charges to harass government critics, and in the use of military solutions, that characterize the Arroyo government. (

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