MANILA, August 20, 2003 (STAR)  GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc  - Expose a narcotics lord, itís often said in this profession, and the least youíd get are death threats. Write instead about follies of politicians and the most youíd get are nasty words. But what if you tackle "narcopolitics"?

Itís a Filipino coinage derived from terms like narcowars that US authorities supported against narcoterrorists in South America. Dwell on it and you get threats coupled with malicious lies. Thatís what I learned in recent years, when the phenomenon of narcopolitics sprang in the Philippines. At least Iím still alive.

So is my family, although life hasnít been a bed of roses ever since I started writing about how pols can use position and influence to profit from drugs. And the profits are huge, considering that narcotrade accounts for P250 billion a year.

So blinding is the glitter of drugs that narcopoliticians would have journalists killed for reporting on them. The cases are many. Iím luckier. But my wife and teenage daughter suffer sleepless nights from reading text messages about how my eyes would be plucked out by the angry senders. Or when they answer phonecalls from men who rattle off theirroutes to work or school and the plate numbers of the car or school van they ride.

The death threats reached feverish pitch in June-September 2001. Thatís about the same time the Senate inquired into the criminal activities of Ping Lacson. I wrote about narcopolitics, taking care to base all my columns on official documents, sworn statements and interviews.

Occasionally I wrote follow-ups: on the long-delayed release of the report on the Senate inquiry, the legal technicalities hounding the revived Kuratong Baleleng massacre case, Lacsonís court defeat by a woman he had slandered in California. All with the same diligence for official findings and testimonies.

The nasty text messages and calls kept coming. My wife and I contemplated sending our daughter for "adoption" by aunts in America. But she wouldnít hear anything of it.

Early last June a family friend of my wifeís who works as Lacsonís media consultant invited me to brunch. We recalled the fun old days when he and I organized several workshops on journalistic ethics. He asked if Iíd like to have a one-on-one with Lacson when the latter returns in July from a North American jaunt. Of course, Iíd want that. I asked him if the senator would take offense if I brought up the matter of death threats Ė at least to get it off my chest. He assured me that Lacson would be candid about everything.

The meeting never took place, through no fault of mine. Now I know why. All the while, Lacson was having my wife tailed, presumably me too.

The product of that surveillance he weaved into a privilege speech Monday against President Gloria Macapagalís spouse Miguel Arroyo. He claimed that several persons regularly visit the First Gentlemanís 8th-floor office at the LTA Building in Makati, bringing in or taking out cartons of cash. My wife, he claimed, was one of them. On interpellation by Sen. Robert Barbers, he said that could be why "parati niya akong binabanatan".

Iím not a narcopolitician, so I donít earn oodles of money. Even if I did, my wife Ė a Pangasinense whom I often kid about being more tight-fisted than an Ilocano Ė wouldnít dream of giving it away. I may not have multimillion-dollar secret accounts in the US, but I canít take money either from anybody whoís not my employer.

As for what Lacson called banat, those are reports on the Senate inquiry, the Kuratong Baleleng case, or the California damage suit that included his side or actions. If he had disputes with the official papers, and testimonies, he could have ordered his many media handlers to draft replies, which I or The STAR editors would readily publish in the interest of fair play. But he never did, just as he never formally refuted the evidence and testimonies in the Senate inquiry by having himself sworn in as witness in his defense. Instead, he picked on my wife.

As our press statement explained yesterday, my wife does occasionally visit LTA Building. For that is where our long-time personal, corporate and libel lawyers hold office. Lacson claimed in his speech that he was a police investigator for 30 years. Some investigator he was. He should have known that other offices occupy that building. Why, even the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas holds office there. My wife would go to LTA on errands to pick up or drop off some papers, and to consult with the lawyers. I visited them a few times earlier this year precisely to inquire about legal remedies to the death threats.

Lacsonís allegations about my wife only confirm our strong suspicion that he not only has put us under surveillance but also is behind all those death threats. His malicious imputations, made from behind parliamentary immunity, come at a time when the Senate is to restudy the tri-committee report on his criminal activities. Three lawyers said on radio that he also is anticipating an adverse decision on his Supreme Court appeal to have the KB massacre case quashed. He needs to make it look like the justices are persecuting him, they opined. Whatever, I view it as an attempt to intimidate me from writing about narcopolitics.

But I canít stop. Drugs have grown into one of the countryís worst menaces. Statistics show that 1.8 million Filipinos are addicted to shabu, and 3.5 million are occasional users. Thatís one out of every 16 of the 82 million Filipinos. For every small family gathering, thereís bound to be one member with a drug problem. The menace affects all Filipino families.

Fighting narcopolitics is a worthy cause, I believe, despite the threats to the safety and privacy of my family. I can only find solace in Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon fashioned against you shall prevail; every tongue you shall prove false that launches an accusation against you. This is the lot of the servants of the Lord, their vindication from Me, says the Lord."

* * *

E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved