Evaluating whistle-blowers

A reporter of GMA7 just dropped by, to ask me about Michaelangelo Zuce. How, he asked, can you tell if he is a credible whistle-blower or not? We have seen so many whistle-blowers before, he said, and so what makes this guy any different?

The difference lies in Zuce’s testimony. It is too soon to tell whether it will prove damaging, or not, but his statements seem to be the most potentially damaging, so far, to the President.

In the first place, Zuce is the first person to claim direct knowledge of the President’s doing, or not doing, certain things. Second, even the Palace admits he once worked for it, which brings up two questions: if he’s such bad news, and so obviously a shady sort of person, why was he hired in the first place? And if he’s been paid off, wouldn’t mean that he had something worth paying for? The motives of Zuce seem pretty straight forward: they’re mercenary. This doesn’t mean he’s lying, at least all the time, and it suggests he may have enough knowledge to cause trouble.

Also, unlike other witnesses, he has an elaborate series of stories, full of information that can be subjected to analysis. Mainstream media is trying this out: an ABS-CBN reporter went so far as to call cell phone numbers listed down by Zuce, one by one, and some turned out to be legit -with the owners verifying they were, indeed, Comelec functionaries who had met Zuce. PCIJ, of course, is trying to verify the contents of Zuce’s affidavit. A good example of how other people are trying to sift through the testimony is a comment made by Jojo Abinales:

The Inquirer’s tracking of Michael Zuce’s activities during the elections included a notation that he and other cohorts met in Tubod, Lanao del Norte. Now, for us from Ozamis City, Tubod has always been that “notorious” place where one can easily get drivers’ licenses (both the ordinary and the one that allows you to drive trucks) for — then — about 1,000 pesos. If you wanted a new car plate to “register” your car, you go to Tubod. If you want to look for your car-napped vehicle, chances are you will be able to start tracking it in Tubod. One of the great stories told to us by older denizens while drinking Ginebra San Miguel in one of those quaint Ozamis kantos, was that when Sen. Enrile’s car was carnapped, it was eventually found in Tubod.

Zuce’s testimony will be both easier to prove and more difficult to demolish. Easier to prove, because the more that’s claimed, the more that can be debunked -and conversely, if less and less can be debunked, the testimony grows stronger. More difficult to demolish because Zuce obviously is in a better position to provide tidbits of information that can add to the plausibility of his tale. In the first place, he was once worth the Palace’s while to employ. And I personally don’t buy the statement that he was too unimportant to know anything damaging. Employers in this country tend to talk and behave as if their flunkies aren’t human: and were more liable to not suffer the consequences in the days when they spoke a different language from the help (or had foreign servants, as was once the case in the Palace, when Chinese servants were favored so they couldn’t gossip about their bosses). But those days are gone; even the President only speaks Spanish with her husband and English with some, but not all, her staff.

La Vida Lawyer says, look at the travel reports officials are required to file (but do they file them when they go on junkets not paid for with government funds?). Newsstand thinks Zuce was most likely a low-level operative but thinks the jueteng link is the weakest link in his testimony (I previously misstated Jon’s point):

It may be that a reactive opposition thinks it needs to tie the jueteng payola and election fraud strands together, to present the public with a tighter, more compelling case. Then they can say, Everything fits, like a Universal Theory. But quasi-legally speaking, impeachment prosecutors only need to prove election fraud (with or without the use of jueteng money) to secure a conviction. Which might mean: the forced linking of the two scandals (the curved space-time of jueteng, the sub-atomic mechanics of election fraud) is for the other trial; you know, the one in the court of public opinion.

What’s interesting to me are the relatively modest figures involved in Zuce’s testimony. A low-level flunky, indeed, would only have been trusted with such small funds (in the political scheme of things). But we have to see if he will hold up upon cross-examination, and if his story survives the scrutiny of experienced reporters (Anonymous Sources suggests the next story will be the motivations of former Finance chief Cesar Purisima; I heard this rumor last Saturday, which makes me wonder if I might possible know who the blogger is). Rep. Teddy Locsin said on ANC that the problem with Zuce is that his testifying only now, means it’s possible Zuce simply pieced together what’s in the papers, and added some trivia for flavor.

Interestingly, Rep. Locsin believes that if the President’s allies can’t mount a strong defense of the President in the Committee on Justice of the House, then the President should go on a leave of absence while her case is heard by the Senate. He says it’s a more “honest” way of tackling the crisis than charter change.

And check out Miron’s take on Zuce: the problem with “hello,” as he eloquently puts it, is (the long) goodbye.

Tony Abaya has an interesting column today, regarding a meeting he had with former president Ramos, who clarified his time-line for charter change:

FVR drew a timeline for his proposed solution:

From July 8 to and not later than September 2005: The High Commission of seven individuals is formed. The two Houses of Congress are convened as a Constituent Assembly and draft constitutional amendments not later than Nov. 1, 2005 on the following issues: shift to the parliamentary system, electoral reforms, political party reforms, and judicial reforms. (FVR does make any mention of federalism which he, like I, frowns on.)

Not later than Dec. 1, 2005: The High Commission submits the proposed constitutional amendments to the Constituent Assembly.

From Dec. 1, 2005 to Jan. 1, 2006: The Constituent Assembly and the High Commission adopt a final draft of the constitutional amendments.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, 2006: Public information campaign on the new Constitution.

Feb. 14, 2006: Plebiscite for the ratification of the new Constitution. (It has to be on Valentine’s Day. Napaka-corny talaga ng mga Pinoy.)

Feb. 16 to May 10, 2006: Election campaign period.

May 12, 2006: General Elections for national and local positions under the new Constitution. (What national positions would these be? In a Westminster-type parliamentary system, all members of parliament are elected in electoral districts, not nationally. And we should change our E-Day back to November, as we had it for decades. The month of May is the hottest and most unpleasant month of the year in these latitudes and is therefore the wrong time to be holding elections.)

June 30, 2006: Assumption of office of all newly elected officials under the new Constitution.

Two interesting points from the above: FVR is skeptical about Federalism; and that Tony Abaya suggests we go back to November elections (which I heartily agree with; when the President was inaugurated last year, I expressed the hope it would be the last June inaugural; the time of the year makes no sense; December 30 was a much better all-around date).

Connie Veneracion has an interesting column on keeping tabs on members of Congress (I’d add, not just attendance, but also, how they vote; the data should come from Congress). I’d only suggest she look into the fact that prior to 1973, Congress only had 100 session days a year. Attendance is far more crucial when congressional days are limited, but not as important when the legislature meets all year-round, as it does under the present charter.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

19 thoughts on “Evaluating whistle-blowers

  1. Thanks, as always, for the mention, which always draws many people to the site. But I’d have to make a qualification: I’m not saying Zuce did not visit La Vista. He certainly seems to know his way around that house. The jueteng link, however, seems to me to be the weakest part of his allegations.

  2. many thanks for the mention too, mlq. your blog of is becoming the hub of citizen journalism — i can’t wait for mainstream media to pick up on jojo’s tip on Tubod. very interesting place. arnold clavio and karen davila, i’m sure, are well on their way (or they should be).

    john: the attempt to link the two scandals made me wonder, too. unless this zuce is really the susi to the proverbial back door.

  3. Yes, he could be. We cannot discount that yet. But it seems to me there is an unhealthy obsession on the part of some anti-Arroyo forces to force a link to jueteng. That link really may be there, but for purposes of filing a bulletproof impeachment case, I’d think election fraud is more than enough. I’d say the effort shows; there is a strain in that part of his story. The rest of Zuce’s allegations, however, doesn’t seem to be forced at all.

  4. marvin, that can be traced if they are stupid enough to pronounce as official travel and if its real. been in the government for the last three years, i think there are ways to go around it…now that you hinted it that paper trail can be done by travel reports…asa ka pa…:-)

  5. Being a “minor functionary”, as what the palace tells about Zuce, all the more makes him a credible clandestine operator.

    In any special operation, especially in the dirty tricks department, you need operatives who are low profile and obscure. Special Ops agents even assume false identities for cover. And all personnel involved in special operations are in a need to know basis. This is the basic Modus Operandi in any special operation. A safety net to ensure that in any event that the operation is bungled, denial of the person involved is the best defense.

    Zuce might be a “minor functionary” in government, but he’s a major player when it comes to the dirty tricks department of the government . He’s not just a gofer in the special operations structure, he’s a caporegime, the line that connects the nerve center to the field operatives. And he knows a lot that’s why his claim about Ebdane’s threat is within the realm of logical credibility.

  6. “And if he’s been paid off, wouldn’t mean that he had something worth paying for?”

    His former palace job would give him “credibility”. How’s that for a clue?

  7. Guys like Zuce are the type hired by dirty tricks operators because they’re hungry and foolish enough to do the dirty jobs, and ultimately easy to discredit. That aside, the La Vista meeting with provincial Comelec officials was for real. Money changed hands for specific desired results.

  8. But he did say he also received money…doesn’t that make him accountable for that crime? Honor among thieves…sheesh…

  9. So what if he recieved money for his testimony? That doesnt mean his testimony arent true. Lots of witnesses was left bleeding to dry but not him. I am just curiuos if he get rescued by mike defensor and that bishop socrates something. We will never know. 🙁

    anyway no matter how clueless my government is, Im still not leaving my country.

  10. One way to evaluate is to take a good measure of the whistleblower’s target’s reaction, in this case GMA, Malacanang, and a number of other people. It would certainly give a clue or hint not of the “beyond reasonable doubt” kind but a clue nonetheless akin to that of a philandering husband or wife.

  11. Ed, don’t you find it a little disgusting that a man can come out and say he took bribe money just like that and no one does (most probably won’t do) anything about it? This is what our society has come to…and there are so many of us chose to be on the straight and narrow and not once break the law.

  12. Mita

    Im just implying that by accepting money for his testimony means he is a smart man. As you know being a witness here in the philippines can leave you financially and emotionally dry because once they use you you are left on your own. By accepting money doesnt always constitute to false testimony. What if he is telling the truth?

    come to think of it Sam said is true. You cannot discount the little guy working for you because he might know lots of things that you do. He is a perfect guy to do the dirty works. He is just a smart man cos he knows when they are finished with him he can also live confortable unlike that ocampo woman who’s I heard are struggling now. (correction we never know if he really recieved money)

  13. Ed,
    Agreed, Zuce could be telling the truth. But factor in the reality that the tape was available for download weeks ago. How easy is it to put two and two together with the information available? Posible diba?

    Smart is not a word I would use to describe Zuce and his kind. That’s twisted. He’s a far cry from Ocampo whose credibility and motives were never questioned – malinis kasi. There is still dignity and merit for keeping your hands clean. If she’s struggling now as you allege, shame on all of us for allowing that to happen.

  14. it’s obvious naman na malakas sya sa BOSS nya kasi government worker sya from 2001 to 2005 tapos d sya pasado nang Civil Service and Technical/Vocational lang ang training nya after high school.

    Naniniwala ako sa kanya kasi sya ang BEST example nang ating bulok na gobyerno puro palakasan lang, ung iba pinapahirapan nila mag test para makapasok sa govrnmnt office tapos ito 15thou a month all expense paid ang mga travels den tumaas pa sweldo after ma desolve ang unit nila…

    Hindi naman sa minamaliit ko ung intelligence nya, kasi ako right now programmer pero d ako college grad.

    tsk… tsk… tsk…

  15. he probably knows something, i observed his behavior during the senate thing. he is acting very confidently and sure of himself. i think his a wise guy and is obviously doing things to get back at people. but personaly he is someone who can’t be trusted. he might have something to say but his too shady, his hands are just as dirty. kinda a he works bought ways

  16. Zuce’s story may sound incredible but it is believable. And I personally believe Zuce’s story.

    Malacanang c a n n o t belittle Zuce’s testimony because there is a realistic basis: we all know the Filipino’s ‘chieftain’ mentality, his/her penchant for having an aide or aides alongside or tagging behind him/her all the time and Zuce enjoyed that position. It is all the more credible because he is related to Garci and we do know how Filipinos like to work with relatives! What a highly privileged position and not quite conspicuous. Besides, Claudio spoke too soon because it’s been revealed that Zuce indeed worked for Joey Rufino.

    One would have thought that these things only happen in countries in Africa and in banana republics in South America but one doesn’t have to look that far because it happens all the time and right on our doorstep: in our country.

    To me, Mr MLQ, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now so iretrievably corrupt, almost beyond salvation that one more accusation of corruption from here or there doesn’t mean anything to her anymore. She will deny the bribe story ever took place come hell or high water.

    Either Garci himself personally, openly, publicly denies the whole “dagdag…dagdag” thing and clears Gloria of any wrongdoing or he comes out of hiding to testify against her and damn her to eternity but only Garci holds the ultimate key to breaking Gloria’s current resolve not to buckle under public pressure.

    So, where is Garci?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.