03/15/2012, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino nun opposes graft and former President Arroyo's husband

by David Viehland
The Sandiganbayan Court orders the arrest of Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of the Philippines' former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for kickbacks involving a project with a Chinese company. The main witness in the case is living under the protection of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Sister Mary John Mananzan, women's chairperson of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), praised anti-graft court's decision to arrest Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The latter is co-accused in an aborted telecommunications project with a Chinese company. For the nun, the move is a necessary step in transforming the Filipino government and society.

The husband of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reportedly posted bail two days ago after the Sandiganbayan (People's Advocate) Court ordered his arrest on charges of graft in an alleged overpriced deal with a Chinese company, ZTE, which allegedly paid him kickbacks. Mr Arroyo has denied the charges.

His wife, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, served as president for nine turbulent years (20 January 2001-30 June 2010). In that period of time, she faced a mutiny by the armed forces, calls for resignation and failed attempts to impeach her for alleged vote rigging, graft and corruption.

She was serving as House Representative for Pampanga province when she was arrested last November on charges of electoral fraud. In December, the court filed graft charges against her as well for the ZTE deal, which she cancelled during her tenure in office following public pressure.

"The court's movement on the ZTE case is what we have been waiting for a long time," said Sr Mary John, who belongs to the Benedictine order. For her, people who are accused must be arrested, tried and punished if they are guilty.

"Our country needs to see there is a punishment for people who do wrong," she explained. "Otherwise, this whole culture of impunity will go on, as if it's all okay to do wrong because one will not suffer any consequence anyway."

The AMRSP has played a leading role in the drive to probe allegations of overpricing and bribery in the US$ 330 million deal with ZTE.

It also gave sanctuary to Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada, Jr after the former government corporation officer and consultant revealed in 2008 irregularities in the government's deal with ZTE for the broadband project.

He implicated President Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband, Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. in the bribery scandal. Then, he packed up and fled wiht his wife and five children, reportedly following threats to their lives.

The AMRSP is a joint body comprising the separate association of men and association of women superiors of religious orders serving in the country. The association seeks to promote the consecrated life of its members, study common concerns, collaborate in responding to them, and pursue prophetic witness in the Filipino Church and society.

After Lozada's expose in 2008, the Association supported the whistleblower and his family by providing the security, a place for his family to live and help with the children's interrupted schooling and daily expenses.

Lozada, an electronics and communications engineer graduate from the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, lost his job as chief executive officer in the Philippines Forest Corporation and as a consultant on the broadband project.

Unable to count on government protection, he turned to the nuns for security as well as their clasping hands forming a protective circle around him when he went to the Senate for the hearings.

The nuns also launched a fund drive, raising more than 1 million pesos (US$ 23,326) for the AMRSP Sanctuary Fund.

Sr Manazan is hopeful that court cases involving graft and corruption will progress as part of President Benigno Aquino III's vision of a government treading along a "straight path."

"If the cases just die away, what a waste of all the sacrifices of whistle blowers," Sr Mananzan said. "It will demoralise people if these cases will not progress," she added.

Lozada and his family have left their sanctuary in a convent to return to their home, she said.

"After Arroyo's term ended, his children said, 'Pa, can't we just live a normal life now?' They are not safe, but they will just have to live with their fear day-by-day. They can't live in fear and stay in the convent the whole time."

Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, a funding agency in Switzerland, has provided a grant for Lozada's family and two other whistle blowers. One is ex-Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade Mary Nancy Gadian, who made allegations about corruption in the joint Philippines-US Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises four years ago. The other whistle-blower is retired Lieutenant Colonel George Rabusa, who provided the Department of Justice evidence of corruption in the military.

"There was a funding proposal sent to the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and it's still going on for his family and all the other whistle blowers like Rabusa and Gadian. It is just a small contribution for the Witness Support Program this year. He (Lozada) gives lectures on truth telling as part of fighting corruption," Sr Mananzan said. "Whenever he has that talk, he gets an honorarium. Hopefully, next year, he can [. . .] earn a living," she added.

The Philippines, along with Honduras, Dominican Republic and Syria, is 129th out of 178 countries and territories in Transparency International's list. The latter ranks countries and territories according to how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.

It was the Philippines' b ranking since 2007 when it ranked 131st with a score of 2.5.

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See also
Corruption charges against President Arroyo's son
31/05/2005
A parliamentary commission looks into charges against Arroyo
24/08/2005
Three in four Filipinos want Arroyo to resign
28/07/2005
Commission to investigate Arroyo announced
19/07/2005
Filipino bishops call for family policies that defend the “right to life”
11/07/2008