Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The House of Representatives Must Make a Stand

Privilege Speech I Delivered during the Plenary Session of February 12, 2008

Mr. Speaker,

When a person seeks protection, human nature dictates that he will seek protection and refuge from those whom he trusts with his life, those who can guarantee him that he doesn’t have to keep looking behind him, fearful of an attack from behind, or he can go wherever he wants without anyone blocking his path and stopping him in his tracks. He seeks to distance himself from those who may have the desire to inflict bodily harm or, as somebody said, prematurely cause his respiratory system to cease functioning.

When in the company of strangers especially during a time when you feel you are under threat, fear is understandably your overwhelming emotion, to the point where you will do anything just to escape that dreaded feeling and physical condition.

This is what Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada experienced last week.

As he was coming home from a trip abroad, he felt there was a need to seek sanctuary and therefore arranged that he be met at the airport by the people he trusted most in his life---his family. It is but natural for people to put their family on the top of their most trusted list. After all, his siblings and his wife will undoubtedly be the people least likely to harm him. After a sudden, unplanned trip abroad, it would have been a welcome relief for him to be back home in the safe and loving arms of his family.

It is no wonder then that when he was met by unidentified men he initially refused to go with them and instead insisted that he first meet with his family who were waiting just beyond the immigration counters, along with a team of the Senate Sergeant at Arms. But in spite of his protestations, he was herded away from his family, even taking an evasive maneuver by going to the Departure Area then taking an elevator down to the tarmac.

The way Lozada was intercepted and picked up at the airport goes against regular procedures in the airport. It is a circumvention of security and administrative procedures, procedures that even members of the House of Representatives are not immune from. The breach of airport protocols and procedures that transpired was brazen enough to come after the Philippines was downgraded by the Federal Aviation Authority for its security lapses.

Mr. Lozada has already testified under oath that he did not arrange to be fetched from the airport in the said manner. He said he was surprised at the appearance of men meeting him just outside the door of the aircraft, since he was expecting that it will be his family who will pick him up.

Mr. Lozada said that he did not know the persons who fetched him. He further said that he did not know where he was being taken and thoughts of the Bubby Dacer abduction and killing entered his mind when, after going around parts of Metro Manila, they reached Cavite.

Although his cell phone was not taken away from him, he was instructed not to use it, along with a warning that his phone conversations were being intercepted.

To simplify it, Mr. Lozada did not feel comfortable in the company of the men who picked him up from the airport. First, his arrangement was for his family to pick him up. Second, unidentified men picked him up and brought him to places that he did not intend to go. Third,

his private communications was being monitored. He was forced into a situation which he did not desire to be in.

Those involved in this caper to take him out of the radar screen tried to explain the whole incident as simply a mission to place Mr. Lozada in their protection. But the testimony of the person who is supposed to be protected, Mr. Lozada, reveals that it was more than just a mission to protect. It was a mission to isolate Mr. Lozada even from members of his own family, which was contrary to his desire.

The circumstances makes it a forced disappearance, although temporary.

In a democracy the we love so much, there is no room for such practice, especially if perpetrated by agents of government. And this is not just limited to the act of physically isolating a person by means of force or aggressive persuasion, but tolerance of the practice makes one equally guilty as the one who forces another person to disappear.

It is in this light that I stand today to bring this matter to the attention of this House. We cannot simply stand in silence and be an observer as agents of government trample on another Filipino’s rights, violate established rules and procedures of government and try to get away with it with a conspiracy of stories riddled with inconsistencies.

As an institution that is supposed to be the People’s bastion of representation, it is incumbent upon this House to act on such incursions into the people’s rights, and the disregard for government’s own rules and procedures.

Do not get me wrong. I am not asking this House to conduct its own investigation into the revelations of Mr. Lozada about the ZTE Broadband Deal. The Senate’s investigation is already colorful and animated as it is, so I think there is no need for us to put up our own show.

But I do think that we cannot sit idly and be silent spectators to what is already obvious as blunders by government agencies. To do so would be a contradiction to the spoken desire of this House for change and reform. A new leadership was overwhelmingly put into place by the members of this House and the mandate given was for the reform of the House and the rehabilitation of its image.

The sagging image of the House was repeatedly cited as one of the reasons for change. Before us now is the golden opportunity for us to show the people that indeed, we have changed. It is the opportunity for us to show the people that we will not tolerate wrongdoing and that we stand for their interests, not ours.

The least we can do is to have a position on the matter as an institution, not as individuals. We must express outrage, at the most, or concern, at the least, about the way that Mr. Lozada was spirited away against his wishes and kept incommunicado from the world and his family.

If the people will see that their House of Representatives will stand up for the rights of Mr. Lozada, it will surely give them hope that if ever the strong arm of government comes crashing down on them, they have an institution that they can rely on. An institution that upholds the people’s interests far above its own, an institution that has a will, conviction and principles of its own, an institution that will not hesitate to defend what is right and condemn what is wrong.

The plight of the Filipino people is summed up in one of the exchanges between a senator and the Chief of the Philippine National Police during the hearing in the Senate. The senator asked, “Kanino ba magsusumbong ang isang tao na natatakot sa pulis?”. The Chief of the PNP said, “Sa pulis din.”

One could actually taste the sense of futility and desperation of the people who heard that.

Many times we have heard horror stories of agents of government abusing the rights of the people. Where will the people turn to? Is it any comfort for us to hear that the people might not even think of the House of Representatives as an institution that they can turn to? We all know and acknowledge that the House has a not so ideal image as far as the public is concerned.

But as I said, this is a golden opportunity for us to redeem our image. Let us stand and be heard by those concerned. Let it be known that the House of Representatives represents the interest of the people. Let it be known that we can cross the lines of partisan politics and stand together for what is right and stand against what is wrong.

Mr. Lozada and his family has emphatically said that what transpired was against their desire and will. Of course, the PNP Chief and some other government officials deny it. They have given many explanations although the doubt still lingers. But who is the best person to say whether an abduction was committed than the person who was abducted? Of course the PNP will say otherwise, because to agree to it would be to admit a wrong doing on their part. What it boils down to is that their explanations are but a defense to the accusations against them.

Again, I reiterate that I am not calling for an investigation by the House of Representatives. There is already an ongoing investigation in the Senate and we do not need to confuse the people with our own inquiry into the matter.

What this representation is seeking is a statement by the House as an institution expressing its concern over the matter of government agents going against established procedures and taking into their custody a person against his will.

I shall file a resolution expressing that sense of the House of Representatives and enjoin the members of this House to support the same. Let this not be a matter of administration or opposition, majority or minority, or first term, second term or third term. Let this be a matter that will unite us on what is for the people and what is against the people.

Thank you very much.

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