, FEBRUARY 9, 2007 (STAR) By Christina Mendez - The latest witness to drop a bombshell in the Senate investigations into the national broadband network (NBN) controversy linked yesterday Palace officials led by a certain “Ma’m” and “ES” to his travails, which began with his forced trip to Hong Kong to keep him from testifying before the Senate.

Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. explained in detail before the Senate joint panel probing the NBN controversy how administration officials moved heaven and earth – including snatching him at the airport – to prevent him from disclosing what he knows about the NBN.

Lozada, former president and chief executive officer of the government-run Philippine Forest Corp., said Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza and former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor talked to him over the phone a number of times while he was being held against his will by unidentified armed men for several hours.

Lozada also said undersecretary for legal affairs Manuel Gaite and Remedios Poblador of the Presidential-Legislative Liaison Office also advised him against testifying on the NBN deal.

Lozada said Atienza called him up and asked him not to panic shortly after he was taken from the airport, saying the men were there to protect him.

As he was driven around Metro Manila, Cavite, and Laguna Lozada said he was forced to sign a handwritten letter seeking security protection.

“Maguusap kami ni ES and ni Mam (I’ll talk with ES and with ma’m),” Lozada quoted Atienza as telling him. ES is an abbreviation for Executive Secretary. Lozada told senators he believes “ma’m” was President Arroyo.

While being held by unidentified men, Lozada said a certain Atty. Antonio Bautista, who later turned out to be Neri’s lawyer, even urged him to sign an affidavit “for the comfort of Malacanang.”

Lozada said that in the affidavit, he was supposed to state that he had not discussed or met with government officials on the NBN-ZTE deal.

In Defensor’s case, Lozada said the former Palace official kept on convincing him to testify but in defense of the Palace.

“It was very difficult. Just making the decision to come is very, very difficult. They have everything,” he said.

Lozada said the armed men who took him were “pretty well equipped” and that they could even monitor the radio frequencies of the Senate security men. At one point, he was even ordered to stop texting because “we are also getting them (text messages).”

He said the men, upon his arrival, “suddenly grabbed me by my arms and (grabbed my) bag and led me to the tarmac, and a waiting vehicle.”

“At that time, I really felt vulnerable,” Lozada said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada presented Lozada with pictures, purportedly lifted from the airport’s close-circuit television, which the key witness confirmed were taken while he was being taken away from the plane after his arrival. Lozada failed to identify a sturdy man in barong but Estrada identified him as Manila International Airport Authority assistant general manager Angel Atutubo.

Lozada said he feared for his life as the night approached. Upon hearing that they were on the way to Dasmariñas, Lozada said he recalled the still unsolved murder of publicist Bubby Dacer who disappeared with his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, sometime in 2000 and were later found dead with signs of torture.

Atienza, meanwhile, rebuffed Lozada for allegedly distorting the truth.

“My impression when we talked was that it was something so serious… but I didn’t hear him say those things at the Senate hearing,” Atienza told reporters in Tagalog at a briefing.

He said that when he was consulted by Lozada, his impression of the star witness was that “he knew so many things.

“Sa lahat ng sinabi n’ya sa akin, talagang nasabi ko, ‘Naku baka ibigay mo ang gobyerno sa oposisyon’ (Because of the things he told me, I really said, ‘You might give the government away to the opposition’),” Atienza said.

Atienza, however, refused to reveal these things about the NBN project that was confided to him by Lozada.

He said his statement was only “in reaction to his (Lozada’s) detailed statement.”

“It is just automatic concern for the country dahil talagang dapat meron ding pagsasaalang-alang sa kapakanan ng bayan (because we really have to consider the welfare of our nation),” he said.

“Anything of this sort affects the credibility of the government, which is bad for the country,” he added.

Atienza also said he did not advise Lozada to snub the Senate hearing, saying he only told the latter to decide “based on the truth.”

“Stay on the side of the truth. My advice to him was to say just the truth,” he said.

“He was a man in trouble, in torment, so I automatically helped him,” Atienza said, referring to Lozada’s state when they met before the latter left for Hong Kong.

Relating that his brother was killed two years ago, Lozada also allegedly even showed Atienza death threats he had received through text messages.

Atienza said that when he called Lozada last Sunday while he was in Hong Kong, the witness seemed “agonizing” and under “severe anxiety and stress.”

“I told him ‘Kung hindi ka tutuloy sa London, umuwi ka na,’ (If you’re not going to London, just come back home),” he said.

Atienza maintained that there was no abduction that took place, as the family of Lozada claims.

“Meron ba namang abduction where you were brought to a place you wanted to go to?” Atienza asked, noting Lozada was brought to the La Salle Greenhills where his family was waiting for him.

Atienza said that when he was asked by Lozada upon arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport about those people who showed up, he replied: “Don’t worry. Mga tao natin yan. Mga taong gobyerno yan (Those are government people).”

The DENR chief added that he also did not receive any information from Lozada while he was inside the vehicle which carried him from the airport.

“If I had gotten any inkling that his life was in danger, I would have immediately acted. Had he told me (when he thought that his life was in danger), I would have called up (Philippine National Police chief Director) General (Avelino) Razon… He didn’t say that his life was in danger. All he needed to do was to text or call me,” he said.

Atienza said he was “disappointed” that his desire to help a “distressed subordinate” was viewed as if he participated in the purported abduction.

He said he would be willing to explain to the Senate if he would be invited to explain his role in the supposed abduction.

Meanwhile, Razon insisted that it was Lozada and his family who requested for police protection.

“We are not forced to tell lies, what we are saying is the truth,” PNP chief said

“It is unfortunate that the police is now being unduly dragged into the controversy involving Mr. Lozada, when all we did was to provide security for him and his family. I don’t believe that’s fair for the police officers who provided a security blanket for him and his family,” Razon said.

Senate Blue Ribbon committee chair Alan Peter Cayetano said Lozada appeared to be credible.

“I don’t think we have living saints at this time. We can’t be more popish than the pope, so to speak. He has revealed the truth about what he knew. Nobody has discredited him so far,” Cayetano said.

CBCB backs La Salle brothers

Catholic bishops yesterday rallied behind the administration of De La Salle- Greenhills which gave sanctuary to Lozada.

“The law of providing sanctuary for people in danger of death though without guilt is a long, sacred practice of the Church the world over,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former CBCP president, said.

“It was Lozada himself who asked to be taken to La Salle. And we could just imagine if La Salle refused to give sanctuary or place of safety,” the prelate stressed.

Cruz recalled how the Church provided sanctuary to T/Sgt. Vidal Doble, the holder of the original alleged taped conversation between President Arroyo and former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who sought refuge in San Carlos seminary in Makati City.

Two other bishops aired their support for LSGH. “When it comes to issues involving the truth, the Church will do everything. And we hope this will continue,” Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo also said there was nothing wrong with the support shown by the clergy to Lozada.

Pabillo, who heads CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action, Peace and Justice, stressed: “This issue is about the truth and we in the Church will do all we can to help people who hold the truth and seek our protection and guidance. That is our role.”

Escorted by Pabillo and several nuns, Lozada faced the media at 2 a.m. Thursday at a hastily-called press conference in La Salle Greenhills in Mandaluyong City.

Human rights issue

A Commission on Human Rights official said the agency is willing to lend assistance to Lozada.

During yesterday’s Newsstand Forum, CHR Commissioner Dominador Calamba II said that “if there was a violation of his rights then I hope that he would file a complaint before our office against Razon.”

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III cited the need for judicial courts dedicated to human rights violation cases. “I think the incidents would not be totally eradicated but it would be lessened. The courts would have served as a deterrent.” – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Reinir Padua, Edu Punay, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Bum Tenorio

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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