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Tragedy in courage By Val G. Abelgas

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They were all in tears when they came into the country’s national consciousness, these whistleblowers. The latest of them — former AFP budget officers retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa and Lt. Col. Antonio Lim, and former COA auditor Heidi Mendoza – all wiped tears as they narrated the massive corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Nearly three years ago, former NEDA consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada was in tears when he appeared in a hastily-called press conference at 2 in the morning at the De La Salle Greenhills to reveal that government authorities had kidnapped him from the airport to prevent him from testifying before the Senate on the $320-million NTN-ZTE broadband deal. During the conference, he narrated how former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos and former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo were involved in the controversial project.

Fear was obviously the main reason for the tears. All four of them feared not just for their lives, but, more importantly, for the lives of their children. And yet, the tears could very well be the result of a feeling of relief in the case of Colonels Rabusa and Lim, having finally admitted guilt in the conspiracy to defraud the Filipino people and their fellow soldiers, and having finally found the courage to make up for their mistake by exposing the perpetrators of the crime.

For Mendoza, it was more a liberation from years of sleepless nights pondering on the knowledge of a crime that she had not been able to expose as she should have.

As they shed those tears while trying to overcome fear, the more the Filipino people, both as spectators and ultimate victims, should realize the sacrifices of these new heroes, and the importance of making sure that their efforts shall not be in vain.

“Our lives were disrupted completely. My only hope is that our sacrifices will not be in vain,” Lozada said in 2009, after he and his family were forced to live within the confines of De la Salle Greenhills for more than one year, after he and his wife were charged with perjury, and after he was charged with malversation in connection with the purchase of motor vehicles for the P19.6-million jathropa fund of the Philippine Forest Corp. where he served as president.

In an article entitled “The saga of Jun Lozada” in April 2009, more than a year after he first surfaced as a whistleblower to the broadband fiasco, I wrote:

“Lozada’s travails reflect the evils of the Arroyo administration and the apathy of the Filipino people. How many times have whistleblowers like Lozada gone through similar sacrifices only to end up with shattered lives or dead, while the perpetrators of the exposed deals continue to wallow in wealth and power? And what have their sacrifices gained? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because the people don’t seem to care, or are too numbed to do something about the abuses and injustices brought upon them.

“Lozada’s case is certainly not the first time that ordinary people who found courage to expose anomalies in the government had suffered the consequences. The more prominent among them were Marlene Esperat, the 45-year-old journalist who was the first to expose the P720-million fertilizer scam, and Siche Bustamante-Gandinao, who boldly testified before the Alston Commission on the killing of her father-in-law, Dalmacio Gandinao, a member of the militant Misamis Oriental Farmers Association.

“Esperat was shot on Maundy Thursday in 2005 while eating dinner with her 10-year-old son inside her house in Sultan Kudarat. It turned out later that high-ranking officials of the Department of Agriculture had tried to talk Esperat into withdrawing the charges she had filed against agriculture officials a few days before she was killed. The Esperat expose later turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg that was to be infamously known as the P760-million fertilizer scam, where hundreds of millions of government funds earmarked for fertilizer subsidies for farmers were allegedly diverted to Arroyo’s campaign funds.

“Siche Gandencio, on the other hand, was shot dead in front of her family in Misamis Oriental in 2006, just a week after United Nations rapporteur Philip Alston had left Manila after completing an investigation of the unsolved political killings in the Philippines. Gandencio was one of the few relatives of political slay victims who testified before the Alston Commission.

“And in 2007, Musa Dimasidsing, the courageous Maguindanao school district supervisor who exposed election anomalies in that same province that was prominently involved in the 2004 Hello Garci poll fraud, was murdered. Dimasidsing had revealed that gunmen filled up ballots or made teachers fill them up with names of Team Unity senatorial candidates while guns were pointed at them.

“The bigger tragedy was that all these three people who chose courage over their personal safety and comfort died in vain! All their sacrifices went to naught as the perpetrators of the corruption and abuses that they dared expose remain free and in power.

“Lozada will probably escape jail. But his life and those of his family will never be the same again. For two long years, they have suffered through it all, but he never backtracked. He never gave up. It was the people – for whom he had offered his life and from whom he had expected support – who is giving up on him.”

It’s noteworthy to mention that not one of those tagged in the anomalies that Lozada, Esperat, Gadencio and Dimasidsing exposed have been charged in court, much less convicted, and yet the lives of the families of the whistleblowers have been damaged forever. Now, more than ever, is the best time to take a second look at those crimes, so that their sacrifices would not be completely in vain.

The three latest whistleblowers are giving up so much in the hope that the corruption in the military that they witnessed for years would finally be corrected and the perpetrators meted justice. Will their sacrifices also be in vain? Will the Filipino people give up on them, too? Will it be another tragedy in courage?

(Note: As this article was about to be sent out, news broke out that retired Gen. Angelo Reyes, one of those tagged in the massive anomaly in the AFP, had shot himself in the chest in front of his mother’s grave. While we should all grieve over his death and pause briefly to allow his family to grieve, it should not stop the Senate, the House or state investigators from pursuing the truth and prosecuting the guilty.)




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