Lozada meet with Lacson in December

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE key witness in the ongoing hearings on the controversial $329-million national broadband network contract played both sides of the political fence before testifying before the Senate this week.

Testimonies at the joint hearing of the Blue Ribbon, trade and commerce and national security committees yesterday revealed that Rodolfo Lozada had been communicating with members of the opposition as early as Dec. 3, 2007, even as he was seeking help from administration officials.

Lozada told both sides that he was getting death threats and feared for his life.

Under questioning by Senator Loren Legarda, Lozada said he had not met with any government officials that could influence his decision to testify on the deal with ZTE of China, but admitted that his brother was communicating with opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson.

But Lacson corrected Lozada by telling the joint hearing that he had met with Lozada at least six times since Dec. 3.

Lacson said he had met Lozada twice in Makati, once in Cavite, once in Taguig and twice in Valle Verde.

“You shared with me some information on ZTE, most of it about corruption,” Lacson told Lozada at the joint hearing.

It was for this reason that at last Friday’s hearing, Lacson and Senator Jamby Madrigal kept telling Lozada that they would have to refresh his memory based on their previous discussions.

On the eve of Friday’s hearing, Madrigal even hosted a dinner for Lozada.

In yesterday’s hearing, Lacson also said that on Dec. 10, when they were at the Shangri-La hotel in Makati, Lozada received a call from former presidential chief-of-staff Mike Defensor.

Defensor confirmed he had phoned Lozada about something else but that it was Lozada who raised the issue of ZTE and his vehement refusal to appear before the Senate. By this time, he was already telling Lacson about alleged corruption in the deal.

Defensor said Lozada began telling him about “Big Boy,” referring to the President’s husband, Mike Arroyo, but that he immediately cut off Lozada, telling him he understood what he meant.

Responding to Defensor’s testimony, Lacson said: ‘‘I overheard your conversation with Lozada over the phone and I even heard your reaction to Big Boy as, patay.”

“I must have said something like that,” Defensor said.

On Jan. 28, Lacson told journalists that a new witness in the NBN case backed out after his name was leaked. He identified him as Lozada, then president of the Philippine Forestry Corp.

Lacson said the witness was believed to be close to former National Economic and Development Authority director general Romulo Neri, and was present in some meetings where the President’s husband was allegedly present.

Lacson said Lozada was under pressure not to testify, and began receiving death threats after he refused offers from the administration for his silence.

“He is backing out. He said Malacañang people are all over him after the news leak regarding his appearance. He’s been receiving death threats on top of incentives being dangled to prevent him from testifying,” Lacson told reporters.

Senator Alan Cayetano, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, brushed aside insinuations that his committee was behind the leak.

He said even before he sent a subpoena for Lozada, he warned Lacson against a possible leak because almost all offices in the Senate were given copies of the summons.

But Cayetano said it was Lacson who told him that Lozada preferred that he be summoned to testify.