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Beatifying the Crooks

Juan MercadoBy Juan Mercado
“It is outrageous, unacceptable and unbelievable”, fumed the usually unflappable Sr. Mary John Mananzan. The co-chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors flayed the Blue Ribbon Committee’s report on the rigged $329-million National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

The report swept in the President, the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Secretary Romulo Neri, ex-commissioner Benjamin Abalos . But it also dragged into the muck those who blew the whistle on the ZTE scam : : consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada and businessman Jose de Venecia III Son of the former House Speaker, De Venecia testified that bribery and overpricing studded the project to wire digitally the nation’s bureaucracy. Government agents kidnapped Lozada to prevent him from testifying “Back off,” both were told.

Cost overruns (bukols) padded the cost, Lozada told Senate probers. A $132 million, project bloated into a $329 million fraud, after the President teed off with ZTE officials, Lozada has, since then, been fired, harassed and sued.

La Salle brothers and Catholic nuns took Lozada and his family under their wings after Lozada testified.” ( Lozada) is the person who wanted the truth to come out… And this is what he gets,” Sister Mananzan said “How is that possible?”

It is possible Sister. Onli in da Pilipins_.
“In this country, those who horsewhip money changers out of the temple often end up excoriated,” the regional Sun Star daily noted. “The ultimate perversion is to beatify the crooks and crucify the whistleblowers.

You want a yardstick to gauge if government means business about curbing sleaze?, Check if it protects—-or harasses—-”whistleblowers”: those men and women who risk jobs, ostracism, and sometimes their lives, to expose crime.

“Governments must create an environment that encourages, instead of penalizing, citizens who denounce venality,” declared 135 countries attending the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Durham, South Africa. The Philippines dutifully signed that document.

Half a decade after Durham, “the kind and extent of support that a legitimate whistleblower should be able to expect (remains) unclear,” says the Asian Institute of Management study: “Whistle Blowing in the Philippines: Awareness, Attitudes and Structures.”

The classic case goes back to 1997. Ensign Philip Pestano denounced, misuse of Navy boats to haul illegal lumber and drugs. He was shot in his cabin. Suicide, the Navy ruled within 24 hours. Murder most foul, a Senate investigation found. Yet, 12 years after the rubout, the Military Ombudsman hasn’t budged beyond securing counter-affidavits.

Gilbert Teodoro will leave the Defense Department without resolving the case.
Ask Acsa Ramirez of Land Bank. Government should have pinned a medal on her for skewering a tax scam. NBI agents instead shoved Ramirez into a police lineup of crooks while cameras panned on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s smile.

Government grudgingly backtracked later. But damage had been inflicted: the presidential photo op squelched a thousand potential whistleblowers.

Or ask Admiral Guillermo Wong. This Philippine Military Academy officer denounced Marine purchases of substandard Kelvar helmets and malfunctioning HK-MP5 assault rifles. Grafters lit into a P64.9 million allocation and left a military camp bereft of roads, water, sewerage, lights—-and P266 in the till.The admiral found himself on “floating status”: an office table with a telephone connected to nowhere.

High profile cases abroad illustrate how “snitchers” curb corporate graft or government crimes. FBI’s Mark Felt as “Deep Throat” leaked the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post, ultimately forcing US President Richard Nixon to quit.

Some blow the whistle alone, others as part of their jobs. The Constitution’s prohibition of prior restraint and censorship make the press a chartered whistleblower. Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod has ripped apart corruption studding Taipan Lucio Tan’s firms. Many countries recognize the societal value of whistleblowers. They adopt laws to ensure that whistleblowers have institutional protection against retaliation. Thus, South Africa has a Protected Disclosure Law. The US Labor Department safeguards, by federal law, those who expose malfeasance. Individual states like Illinois have “”whistleblower” ordinances.

Protection of whistleblowers here from retaliation is spotty. Filipinos shy away from confrontations. “Don’t get involved for peace of mind “ is the counsel often peddled. But ”every failure to recover proceeds of corruption,” the Durham Statement warns, “feeds its growth.”

There’ve been some notable—-and welcome—-exceptions. Equitable Bank’s Clarissa Ocampo revealed President Joseph Estrada signed as “Jose Velarde” a multi-million “guarantee,” for crony William Gatchalian. People Power 2 backed Ocampo.

The Philippines needs “an explicit policy that will govern whistle blowing,” the AIM study asserts. The President, First Gentleman and cronies are scot-free in the ZTE scam. When whistleblowers end up as the accused, it’s time to ask if today’s policy is to canonize crooks as accusers.
E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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