Press Release
February 6, 2008

PRIVILEGE SPEECH OF SEN. BENIGNO S. AQUINO III ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF NBN-ZTE WITNESS RODOLFO LOZADA, JR.

I stand here today on a question of personal and collective privilege. Yesterday, this government committed its most brazen act of impunity against this honorable institution, against one of its citizens, and his distraught family.

A key witness at an ongoing investigation, for whom the Senate has issued a warrant of arrest, has disappeared.

I do not personally know Rodolfo Noel Lozada, Jr. I have never met him, or even spoken to him in my life. For all I know, he could resurface one of these days and say he was never kidnapped.

What I do know is this:

At about two o'clock in the afternoon yesterday, two hours prior to Mr. Lozada's arrival at the NAIA, a person in contact with him informed me that he was on his way home to Manila from Hong Kong.

We relayed this information to the Office of the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms to give them the opportunity to serve Mr. Lozada his warrant of arrest.

Together with members of the Office of the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms, we made our way to the airport at about 3:30 in the afternoon. We wanted to help forestall any untoward incidents that might keep the Senate from doing its job.

Mr. Lozada arrived in Manila via Cathay Pacific Flight 919 at 4:40 yesterday afternoon.

However, somewhere between deplaning at the tarmac and proceeding to the arrival section, where members of his family, the Office of the Sergeant-At-Arms (OSAA) and the media were awaiting his arrival, Mr. Lozada mysteriously disappeared.

Soon after this, news reports began to circulate that Mr. Lozada was "met by unknown persons as he emerged from the plane" and reportedly "taken down through a side exit of the tunnel that connects the plane and the passengers' arrival area, and whisked into a vehicle parked right at the tarmac."

Soon after this, members of Mr. Lozada's family began to appeal for his safe and immediate return.

Soon after this, I was informed by Col. Dimacali of the OSAA that Arthur Lozada received a text message from his brother saying he was accosted at the airport and taken somewhere "out of town."

Despite these, not a single word of explanation was offered by any official of the Manila International Airport Authority for this apparent breach of airport security procedures.

It took MIAA Assistant General Manager for Security and Emergency Services Angel Atutubo five hours to announce that it was not he who took Lozada, but a certain Senior Police Officer 4 Roger Valeroso.

It took the Philippine National Police over twelve hours to announce that personnel from their Police Security Protection Office (PSPO) who had taken Mr. Lozada into custody. He also announced that there was no person named Roger Valeroso in the ranks of the PNP.

As is customary with all of this administration's attempts to explain its actions, these developments have only raised more questions:

If SPO4 Valeroso does not exist, then where did Angel Atutubo get his name when he made the announcement yesterday?

If SPO4 Valeroso does not exist, then who was the police officer who took custody of Mr. Lozada at the airport yesterday afternoon?

By whose authority and on what grounds was he given access to the airport tarmac?

By whose authority and on what grounds did the PNP take him into their custody?

If Mr. Lozada had indeed asked the PNP for protection, how does one explain the sheer confusion, terror and panic in the voices of his family members as they appealed to "please return [him], whoever is holding him now"?

If Mr. Lozada is indeed in the custody of his family, why have they filed for a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court, saying that the "blatant illegal restraint of petitioner…is still causing the continuous violation of his right to life, liberty, and security without due process of law."

I cannot think of any other explanation for Mr. Atutubo and the PNP's prolonged period of silence other than that those hours were used to concoct what appears to be a badly written official story on the fate of Mr. Lozada.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, a key witness in an on-going Senate investigation has gone missing.

He has apparently been denied his freedom without any lawful reason and his family is beside itself with worry.

Today, I fear that Mr. Lozada and his family may go the way of other witnesses like Eugenio Mahusay and Vidal Doble, who were placed under duress and threatened with physical harm in order to get them to maintain their silence.

The issue at hand is not whether Mr. Lozada was taken against his will or not by the PNP.

The issue at hand is that the PNP has no legal authority to continue to keep him in their custody.

To continue to do so constitutes a direct affront to the Senate's power to enforce its institutional authority. In many cases, the highest tribunal of this land has consistently affirmed the power of this institution to hold in contempt those who blatantly defy its lawful order.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, will the Senate just stand by idly and await further developments on the fate of Mr. Lozada?

When my father was murdered on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport twenty-five years ago, our country was under martial law. With no institution of government willing to condemn this act, it was left to the people to demand that those responsible be held accountable for their actions.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, we are not under martial law today.

As one of the remaining independent democratic institutions, will the Senate as an institution not take a stand to condemn in the strongest possible terms, this blatant disregard for the rule of law and the Senate's Constitutional authority?

In the face of this insolent display of disrespect for a co-equal branch of government, I hope that we will be equal to the task of defending our Constitutional obligation.

If the Senate does not act now, then it will suffer the fate of many other institutions that this government has managed to emasculate.

I challenge the Senate to fully utilize the powers vested in it by the Constitution.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, if we are not able effectively exercise our institutional authority, then we will be reducing ourselves, and the Senate, to irrelevance.

I therefore move for the Senate to look into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Rodolfo Noel Lozada, Jr. and to immediately issue subpoenas to Angel Atutubo, Octavio Lina, General Avelino Razon, Jr. and to all accountable officials of the Manila International Airport Authority and the Philippine National Police.

These individuals should explain to this body their participation in preventing the lawful arrest of Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. by the Office of the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms.

Should they continue to disregard the Senate's authority, then I call on this body to immediately cause their arrest and detention until such time that they recognize that we are a co-equal branch of government.

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