'Disillusionment with Aquino setting in'

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - They are now disillusioned with Philippine President Benigno Aquino and wondering about his "daang matuwid (literally, straight path)".

Members of religious and civil society groups that had rallied against former president Gloria Arroyo said this was how they now felt toward Aquino.

One of the reasons they cited was the President's seeming lack of support for Rodolfo Lozada Jr., the whistle-blower against Arroyo in the anomalous US$329-million NBN-ZTE broadband deal.

Around 60 of them gathered at the La Salle Green Hills chapel in Mandaluyong City to listen to Lozada's expose on how the Aquino administration had supposedly allowed a "midnight proclamation" made by Arroyo shortly before her term ended in 2010 that allegedly benefited the real estate company of Jose 'Jerry' Acuzar, a brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

"The people now here are disillusioned with P-Noy," one of the attendees told the Inquirer, asking not to be identified.

Sr. Mary John Mananzan, cochair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), said straight away she was "disillusioned" with Aquino after he was dismissive of Lozada during a meeting in Malacanang on February 18.

According to Mananzan, the meeting was an idea of some people close to the President who became concerned that there appeared to be a threat anew to Lozada's safety after the Sandiganbayan ordered his arrest due to a graft case filed against him as president of Philippine Forest Corp. (PhilForest) in 2007.

Eight people were at the meeting: the President, Lozada, Mananzan, Ochoa, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Sr. Cho Borromeo of AMRSP and Br. Felipe Belleza FSC, president of La Salle Green Hills.

"What we wanted was to have an even playing field," Lozada said, which was the reason they met with the President.

Lozada et. al. told Aquino that having Erwin Santos as current PhilForest president would not give the anti-Arroyo whistle-blower a fair chance in court.

But Aquino allegedly told Lozada to get the documents he needed to prove his innocence in court from Santos, or instruct his lawyers to ask the judge to subpoena the documents from PhilForest.

Disliking Lozada

Mananzan said it was during the Malacanang meeting that they all learned why Aquino did not seem to like Lozada.

"I couldn't believe that the reason he (Mr. Aquino) was angry at Jun was because five years ago, when Jun wanted to return to the Philippines from Hong Kong, there were so many politicians who wanted to be his patron. One of them was P-Noy. But Jun told those negotiating that he didn't want to be associated with anyone, that's why he ended up with the religious," she said.

Lozada had fled to Hong Kong to evade a Senate hearing on the NBN-ZTE deal but later chose to return to Manila to expose the anomaly.

At the press conference, a video clip of Santos on NBN Channel 4 was shown.

Santos was the lone PhilForest employee to go on record to defend Arroyo and discredit Lozada, who had then just revealed that the NBN-ZTE deal was an anomalous transaction.

Santos subsequently filed a complaint against Lozada, then PhilForest president, which is now pending in court.

Lozada, Mananzan and Borromeo wondered how Aquino appeared to take Santos' side and continue to retain him as PhilForest president.

Lozada said Santos was close to then Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, who is considered by Acuzar to be his mentor.

"Our question to this government is why do they treat truth tellers this way, specifically Jun Lozada? Why doesn't it extend all possible help that the government can give to a truth teller? Is this government just pretending to be anticorruption but, on the other hand, it is coddling corrupt men and women?" Fr. Marlon Lacal, AMRSP executive director, told the press conference.

Idle land agreements

Lozada showed the 2009 contract between PhilForest and Acuzar's San Jose Builders, which awarded the company 2,000 hectares of land in Busuanga, Palawan, under the Busuanga Economic Productivity out of the Idle Land Agreements.

In May 2010, then President Arroyo signed Presidential Proclamation No. 2057 that allowed PhilForest to administer the development of idle lands for business and economic activities covered by the Busuanga Pasture Reserve.

The INQUIRER learned that all contracts of the awardees, including that of San Jose Builders, were cancelled in December 2011 after they failed to show project development plans despite several notices from PhilForest.

But Lozada said some contracts were reconsidered, including that of San Jose Builders.

"That's the reason they need Proclamation No. 2057 in order for (PhilForest) to take administrative control of the area," Lozada said.

Midnight proclamation

But Lozada said he was not saying that the awarding of the contract to San Jose Builders was anomalous.

"What is questionable is the midnight proclamation which the people of Palawan had asked to be recalled but was ignored," Lozada said.

He showed a copy of the letter of Palawan Gov. Abraham Mitra to Aquino in October 2011, which asked that Proclamation No. 2057 be recalled, saying that it was against the earlier proclamation that declared the area a "pasture reserve".

In his letter, Mitra said Proclamation No. 2057 was declared without consultation with the people living in the affected communities as well as the local government units.

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