NESTLED in a wooden study chair beside a table harboring The Alchemist amid a sea of used papers, NBN-ZTE scandal witness Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada peered through the window of one of the dormitories in La Salle Greenhills where he is now seeking refuge.

Scratching his brows in a gesture of confusion, Lozada grappled with the irony of truth in a reality typified by a hostile political environment while trying to answer an innocent query from his son: “Papa, if you’re the one who did something right, why are you the one running away?”

Two weeks after testifying before the Senate regarding the anomalous multi-million dollar broadband project involving key figures like First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. and former National Economic and Development Authority director-general Romulo Neri, Lozada recalled in an exclusive interview with the Varsitarian how a “noisy spirit” disturbed his sleep in Hong Kong, and kept him from lying when he returned home even at the risk of being “whisked away” by government operatives who were just after his “safety.”

“My conscience has been really bothering me,” Lozada told the Varsitarian. “The (urge) to come out in the open was already there but I want to do it correctly since I was still in the government service back then.”

At first, his exposure of the “hidden truths” in the anomalous $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project with China’s ZTE Corp. before the Senate was a “personal act of survival.” The resigned president of state-owned Philippine Forest Corp. revealed that his willingness to testify was to a certain point fanned by death threats he continuously received from government officials who knew a thing or two about the NBN-ZTE deal.

“They said that I didn’t really plan to testify. But how will I not testify if those people who have something to do with the NBN scandal kept on threatening me and my family?” Lozada asked. “I was even kidnapped by four members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) upon my return. My passport was confiscated and my name was struck out from the passenger manifesto which prompted me to ask: ‘Is this how you treat a VIP seeking police protection as what they claim before the media?’”

Lozada said that prior to being taken by PSG men at the airport tarmac as confirmed by records of the Dignitaries Lounge of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, his family was about to meet him upon arriving on a business class trip from Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific flight CX-919 at 4:40 pm last February 5. They were to head straight to their residence in Pasig.

But the homecoming did not happen after he was driven away from the airport on board a Toyota Altis toward South Superhighway. Aside from his family, an arresting team sent by the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms had been waiting to escort Lozada before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to shed light on the controversial broadband deal.

For ‘salvaging’

“They kept on insisting that I was not kidnapped because I was still able to use my cellphone while being driven away from the airport by the PSG men. But later on, they told me to stop texting because they can intercept my messages anyway,” Lozada said, recalling the last text message he sent to his brother, telling the latter that he was “kidnapped.”

“I’m from Pasig but as what I’ve noticed during our trip, I was surprised to know that we’ve reached as far as Los Baños (Laguna),” Lozada said. “I then asked my brother, who is in the telecommunications business, to triangulate my signal because they saw that I sent a message to my brother about my location (in Los Baños).”

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Keeping himself composed amid the rattling situation, Lozada, remembering a sermon he had heard from a priest about being a “Catholic warrior,” tried his best not to let the abductors sense his mounting fear.

“They were very careful, I must say, not to make me feel threatened or perplexed whatsoever. Kinakabahan din ako siyempre but I have to try to talk my way into their minds and to their hearts,” he said. “I had to play along because as they say a Christian warrior should have (the) purity of a dove and (be as) cunning (as) a serpent.”

Yet when one of his abductors realized that he got wind of their plan, and that he had already texted his brother that he was about to be brought “somewhere” in Dasmariñas, Cavite, the PSG men decided to take him instead to the boundary of Laguna and Quezon.

Curiously, Lozada asked in the vernacular: “Bakit naman nila ako dadalhin sa isang liblib na lugar?” He thought of the far-flung towns of Real and Infanta in Quezon and Siniloan and Sta. Maria in Laguna – considered as NPA-infested areas – which could have served as one of his “resting grounds,” if not for his family’s correspondence with the media who had pestered the authorities for his whereabouts.

In the morning of February 6, major dailies ran stories about Lozada’s purported “government-enforced” disappearance, grabbing public attention on the heels of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia’s ouster as House Speaker in the fallout of the broadband scandal.

“Ibalik na natin ‘to; masyado na daw mainit ang media sa Manila,” Lozada said, quoting one of the PSG men as saying. “(Environment) Sec. (Lito) Atienza called me up, instructing me to tell my wife to calm down because they will be bringing me back to Manila right then.”

But far from what Lozada had expected, he was brought to a lawyer and made to execute an affidavit saying that he had requested the government for police security out of fear for his life.

In the Varsitarian interview, Lozada also rebuffed “irregularities” raised by pro-administration Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago during the Senate investigation, such as the alleged P5-million insurance policy which the Philippine Forest Corp. supposedly secured from his wife, an agent of Insular Life.

Santiago said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report last February 9 that Lozada had approved the insurance policy “to increase the earnings of idle funds in his office.”

“That is just part of the myth they’re trying to spin in order to discredit me. If it is true that I also ravaged the public treasury, then I should have not been here in the first place,” he said. “If they want, they could even help me pay my dues because I’m jobless right now.”

Lozada added that he intentionally transferred the ‘idle’ funds from Land Bank to an investment instrument because they were not earning interest.

Taking a swipe at Santiago’s “selective amnesia,” Lozada said that the senator forgot to mention the beneficiary of the insurance plan is Philippine Forest, not himself or anyone in his family.

He then narrated how he entered government service because of his brother’s death.

“I was only able to work in the government after meeting then Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Victor Corpus, whom I approached to help me resolve the killing of my brother out of mistaken identity.”

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Although the culprits who ambushed his brother were never put to justice despite his petitions, Lozada expressed his gratitude to Corpus by offering him technical support for the Eskwela ng Bayan project, whose funding of P1.3 billion was enough to cover 20,000 schools nationwide.

“When I left (the project) the target number of schools to be covered by the project became 28,000 and the budget was disproportionately bloated to P28 billion,” Lozada said. The Eskwela ng Bayan project later evolved into the Cyber Education program of the government.

Tired of crying

Holding back his tears, Lozada expressed his exasperation at government officials he had implicated in the NBN-ZTE deal.

“Pagod na ‘kong umiyak, I told them at the Senate. Puro kasinungalingan lang ‘yung mga sinasabi nila, paikot-ikot lang,” Lozada said. “I guess I got exasperated when Secretary Atienza kept on insisting (that) I told him that the First Gentleman (Jose Miguel Arroyo) spat on me. I never said those things.”

In between pauses, Lozada thought of a gloomy future ahead of him and his family.

“The sad thing about my life right now is answering the question: How can I raise my family after this? How can I face all the raps against me? I don’t even have a job right now,” he said. “Papaano ko palalakihin ang mga anak ko?”

Lozada appealed “not to allow this to happen to me” and to the others who are just telling the truth because “you are sending the wrong signal to my children that here in the Philippines “‘yung mga gumagawa ng mabuti, ‘yun ang kailangang magtago, yun ang kailangang mangibang-bansa, ‘yun ang kailangang umalis ang anak sa eskwelahan, ‘yun ang kailangan na ang mga anak ay hindi madala sa ospital kahit may sakit.”

The 1984 Electronics and Communications Engineering graduate bombarded the Thomasian community with the questions: “Gusto ba nilang tumira sa lipunan kung saan pinaparusahan ang mabubuti at pinapanigan ang masasama? Could someone ask the Thomasians if they will allow such thing to happen? Why can’t they see me?”

Lessons from Rizal, Aquinas

Citing lessons from fellow Thomasian Jose Rizal in his work The Philippines: A Century Hence, Lozada recalled the national hero as saying that if Filipinos would not overcome their servile image, then there would be a generation springing forth that “will be adept in carrying the yoke of foreign domination.”

“In the Filipinos’ desire to be foreign, they will admire everything that is foreign from way of life to culture. It will lead to looking down on everything that is us: language, color, race,” Lozada said. “And to those of you who love this country, you will bow your heads in shame, bind your hands together as slaves and accept the fate of your beloved nation to the resignation of an invalid.”

“Don’t you think that’s so relevant now?” he asked, prior to tackling one of Rizal’s conversations with his brother Paciano about the country’s dismal state under Spanish rule.

“Rizal asked his brother Paciano, ‘Did God make us poor and silent, or we were so misgoverned we ended up that way?’ Paciano couldn’t answer,” Lozada said. “Two years later, Rizal wrote to Paciano and said, ‘In my travels abroad I have the answer: We didn’t get the right kind of government from our leaders.’”

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Writing in the Inquirer last February 11, columnist Manuel L. Quezon III praised Lozada’s courage, highlighting his UST roots: “There are two things about Lozada that will go far, I think, in understanding the distinctions he’s tried to make, and his eventual decision to hold the line once he felt things had gone too far. The first is that he is proud of being a Thomasian; he quotes Thomas Aquinas widely. The second is he is a passionate student of Jose Rizal.”
Raising the first condition of a just revolution – that is, the presence of “a grievous cause to warrant such action” – according to Aquinas, Lozada said, “Is this situation not grievous enough for you to warrant such action? The youth should ask themselves.”

A failing state

Describing the youth today as “indifferent,” Lozada lamented the young people’s preference to “vote with their iPods and cellphones,” unmindful of the nagging setbacks that have plagued the country since time immemorial.

“They (the youth) don’t mind the country anymore. They work for foreign call centers, they go abroad. Those are acts of desperation,” he said. “Akala ba nila giginhawa sila for a lifetime after turning their back on the political realities of their country? Definitely not. We are a failing state right now.”

The indicators of a failing state are already here: from public healthcare bogged down by shortages in manpower and medicines, education that cannot efficiently cater to the public, water services that have been privatized, to a tarnished police service. Even the justice system does not exist, he added.

“We do not have a justice system in the Philippines. What we have is a legal system,” Lozada said. “When you look at the dictionary, justice means what is just, fair, and true.”

Lozada recalled how Sen. Joker Arroyo marked his testimony as “credible,” but unacceptable in court because there is no documentary evidence.

“The legal system has been the refuge of the crooks and the criminals in the country,” Lozada said, citing the case of former elections chief Benjamin Abalos and his project on the computerization of elections, where “even the restraints were bought.”

When the computerization project was brought to the Office of the Ombudsman after the Supreme Court struck down the project, the ombudsman said there was no basis to file a case against Abalos.

Lozada exclaimed: “What then happened to the P1.3 billion that the Filipino people had paid for? Nothing. It has never returned to the Filipinos.”

Light of goodness

Despite having to “unlearn all the habits” that have completely disrupted his life, Lozada remains convinced of the “inherent goodness” of every Filipino, which he believes transcends families and generations.

“Ang salitang Pilipino ay hindi tumutukoy sa isang pamilya lamang. Ang salitang Pilipino ay tumutukoy sa isang sambayanan, isang bayang Pilipino na kumatawan sa henerasyon ko noon at sana maging sa henerasyon ngayon,” he said.

Portraying the nation in the “dark,” Lozada made an appeal to fellow Thomasians.

“If they think what I’ve done is good, Thomasians, the discerning people that they are, should do their part to respond to the country by bringing out the light of goodness in every one of them,” he said. “Cast light into the darkness of this nation. Chase the creatures of the darkness away. I believe if every Thomasian will bring out his own light…liliwanag ang bayan natin.”

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