COMMENT: Confusing the People. By Patricio P. Diaz

They stated, too, the manner of seeking truth: “We are convinced that the search for truth in the midst of charges and allegations much be determined and relentless, and that the way to truth and integrity must be untrammeled, especially at the present time when question about the moral ascendancy of the present government are being raised.”

The “crisis of truth” and “pervading cancer of corruption” obviously refer to the present decade covering the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies but make particular mention of the ZTE-NBN scandal. Charged to lead in the seeking truth and restoring integrity are “the President and all the branches of government” – meaning, the executive, legislative and judiciary.

While the Bishops addressed their pastoral statement “in a special way to our political rulers and officials,”  it is also addressed “to everyone.” In short, the people have a role side by side with their leaders – the President, members of her cabinet, the senators, and down the line.

So that the people can do their part well, they should not be confused –“the way to truth and integrity must be untrammeled,” must be clear. The Bishops in a 6-point call for communal action particularly urged the President, the senators and media to clear the way for truth.  

But the Bishops and the people will be in for serious disappointments.

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                                                    LMP Manifesto

What “crisis of truth” and “cancer of corruption” are the Bishops talking about – that which without directly saying so implicates President Arroyo and her government? This challenging question is evident in the Manifesto of Support for the embattled President by the 422-member strong League of Municipalities, Mindanao Island Cluster.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was guest at the LMP 1st Island Cluster Conference in Davao City yesterday, February 27. In the Manifesto of Support they presented to her, the LMP members “firmly believe in her integrity and honest governance of our country” and are “strongly supporting” her for an “assured, sustainable peace and development in Mindanao” (MindaNews, February 27)

What a crisis of value! For the millions of pesos in development funds their municipalities have received and to strengthen their patronage, they would close their eyes on multi-billions of pesos lost in corruptions which their people and generations yet to come will pay in perpetuity.
To ignore unconscionable corruption in the national level because of whatever progress there is in Mindanao is confusing the people. Will they (the people) also ignore corruption in the municipal and provincial levels as long as they see progress in their communities?

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                                                    Did She Admit?

As reported in INQUIRER.net and Philippine Star (February 24 and 25), President Arroyo said in an interview over radio dzRH she had been told about the “purported high-level corruption” in the $329-million ZTE-NBN deal on the night before the signing of the contract on April 21, 2007 which she did not stop.  

“How can you cancel it the night before, considering that you are dealing with another country?” she said.

The admission convinced the senators, her critics and the opposition of her complicity in the scandal and believed it was ground for impeachment. The Palace, to put out the fire, said that the President “did not admit that the NBN deal was flawed”. The “flaw” was a mistranslation of her original statements in Pilipino by the press.

A transcript of the interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary to prove that her original statements in Pilipino had been mistranslated. The following were in reply to program host Joe Taruc when he asked President Arroyo about the status of the ZTE-NBN contract:

“Una sa lahat, hindi ko gusto ng katiwalian.  Ang taumbayan ay galit sa katiwalian, ganun din ako, galit din ako sa katiwalian.  Kaya itong proyektong ito, oras na may pag-uusap na may anomalya, ay agad kong kinansela – agad-agad na gumawa ako ng hakbang para kanselahin.”

“Kanselado na iyon, matagal na.  Oras na my sumbong sa akin, tiningnan ko na iyong paraan kung paano kanselahin.  Nagsumbong sa akin the night before the signing of the supply contract pero hindi pa naman kasi  — that was only one of many signings.” (INQUIRER.net, February 26)

“Pero sa unang pagkakataon, kinausap ko kaagad  iyong pangulo ng China para sabihin sa kanya na kailangang kanselahin iyong projekto.  Sa una nagulat, sa pangalawa, naintindihan niya, at magkaibigan pa rin kami kahit kanselado na ang proyekto.” (INQUIRER.net, February 24)

In English:

“First of all, I don’t like irregularities. The people are angry at irregularities, the same with me, I’m angry at irregularities. So this project, once there were talks about anomalies, I cancelled it immediately – immediately I took steps for cancellation.”

“That is already cancelled, a long time ago. Once there was a report to me, I looked for ways to cancel it. Someone reported to me the night before the signing of the supply contract but it’s not yet because – that was only one of many signings.”

“But on the first opportunity, I talked immediately to the president of China to explain to him that it was necessary to cancel the project.  At first, he was surprised; later he understood, and we are still friends even if the project has already been cancelled.”     

Did President Arroyo admit the ZTE-NBN contract had irregularities so that she cancelled it? But not immediately, for the signing was April 21, 2007 and the cancellation was October 2, 2007 – or five months after she had received a report.

Ignore the inconsistencies and lies.  She did not say it directly– out of personal knowledge — that the contract was flawed but she cancelled the contract because of the report to her of irregularities. Even if she had no direct personal knowledge by her act she admitted she believed the report, hence the “flaw.” Was that not what she said in context?

When caught “red-handed”, the Palace spokespersons would spin the President’s or their own statements.  They confuse the people to cover up the damning truth.

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                                                     Gaite’s Tale

Can anyone believe the Good Samaritan tale about the P500,000 “loaned” to Noel “Jun” Lozada by Deputy Executive Secretary Manuel Gaite? What an impulsively revised tale!

First, Gaite said the P500,000 came from his pocket (INQUIRER.net, February 20).  Second, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita edited the story stating that Gaite had solicited the money from donors (INQUIRER.net, February 20). Third, Gaite told the Senate the money was a loan from an uncle for the renovation of his parent-in-laws’ house. (INQUIRER.net, February 26)

The account of the changing sources of the money duplicates the same account about where the P500,000-gifts to governors and members of Congress late last year came from. The seemingly neatly spun tale only points to the real source: Malacañang.

To cover up the perception that the money was intended to bribe Lozada into not testifying at the Senate, or, if he would, to influence his testimony in favor of Malacañang, Gaite, both in the media and at the Senate, pictured Lozada as an ingrate – he asked for help and when given he turned against his benefactor.

The Good Samaritan part of the tale is improbable.  Did Lozada need P500,000 to augment his personal funds? If he was sent on official business – going to London via Hongkong to attend a conference – why was he not given sufficient allowance?  He was sent out on official business. Why did he have to get a loan to augment his expenses?

Discrediting Lozada only muddles the hearing. Lozada is not the one under probe.  The Arroyo government is for the ZTE-NBN scandal. To cover up, Malacañang spin-masters confuse the people.

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Varied Responses

The responses to the CBCP’s Pastoral Statement are as varied as the tempers, views, beliefs, biases, prejudices, affiliations, perceptions, and expectations of peoples and groups on either side of the fence.  It is interpreted according to selfish, partisan interests.

It should not be doubted that the 55 bishops have gone into deep discernment and prayers to arrive at their clear vision of how to seek truth to cure the pervading cancer of corruption and to restore integrity in Philippine society. No less are they urging the people and their leaders – from the President down to the lowest level — to do the same.

But they must brace themselves for grave disappointment.  Malacañang, the Senate, other political leaders, civil society, militant organizations, other critics of the government, and the militant members of the Catholic Church will interpret and crticize the Pastoral Statement to serve their partisan purposes and interests to confuse the people.

Had past pastoral statements been abided by according to their visions and persuasions, there would have been no need for the present Pastoral Statement – one that is more controversial than any under the Arroyo dispensation.  That calls for discernment. ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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