POSTSCRIPT / August 1, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gracia's book replete with hearsay on AFP

CONTRADICTIONS: Why the apparent contradiction between the court testimony of American missionary Gracia Burnham and what she wrote in her book on the alleged collusion between her Abu Sayyaf captors and the military?

My simplistic answer to that is that her direct testimony in court was made under oath while her controversial book “In the Presence of My Enemies” was not.

Sayang, the attorney examining her as witness, and even the presiding judge himself, failed to ask her also if every word she wrote in that book was “the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.”

A God-fearing woman, Gracia’s response to that one would have been more revealing that the Revelations.

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PICK YOUR REASON: But in case you have other ideas, I have drawn up for your convenience a checklist of other possible reasons for the apparent contradiction:

  1. Time befuddles our recollection of events that transpired years ago. (With 19 others including her husband Martin, Gracia was kidnapped on May 27, 2001, and rescued on June 7, 2002. Her book was issued May 2003. She testified in court last July 29, 2004.)
  2. Someone advised her that it might be more prudent, or at least charitable, to be less harsh in making accusatory statements about people who had risked their lives trying to rescue her. Some 45 Filipino soldiers were killed in rescue operations.
  3. A lawyer has told her about hearsay. There is a difference between directly witnessing an event (e.g. negotiations and delivery of armament and supplies) or a transaction (e.g. a general pocketing part of ransom paid) and just overhearing stories or being fed information by one’s captors.
  4. Written in the flush of her rescue, some passages in Gracia’s book might have been a bit exaggerated or over-edited by whoever rewrote the hurried prose.
  5. We got our report of what Gracia said in court second-hand. Having been barred from the courtroom, the media had to rely on those who were inside whose objectivity or reportorial skills have not been established.

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OVERHEARD TALES: Quoted from a report of Ted Olsen in Christianity Today are these excerpts from Gracia’s book.

“When the (Abu Sayyaf) went out for (food and supplies), they’d pick up ammunition as well,” Gracia wrote. “You may wonder how such a group as the Abu Sayyaf seemed to be well supplied with weaponry. Were their al-Qaeda friends sending them supply boats in the middle of the night? No, no — nothing so exotic as that. The Abu Sayyaf told us (its) source was none other than the Philippine army itself…. I was amazed. The fact that such firepower could quite possibly wind up killing one’s fellow soldiers seemed not to matter at all.”

Gracia said that “more than once” she heard one of the Abu Sayyaf leaders call on a satellite phone a woman named “Ma’am Blanco” in Zamboanga, asking for certain weapons and bullets.

“Who are you ordering from?” she asked him.

“Oh, the army,” the Abu Sayyaf leader said. “We pay a lot more than it should cost, of course. So somebody’s making a lot of money. But at least we get what we need.”

She also wrote that the military was not just providing weapons. In January 2002, she said, the food supply was plentiful for “a most unusual reason”:

“The Armed Forces were feeding us! A group of them met our guys and handed over quantities of rice, dried fish, coffee, and sugar. This happened several times over the course of a few weeks.

“Why in the world did President Arroyo’s troops provide the Abu Sayyaf with their daily bread? We were told that it was because (Abu Sayyaf leader Abu) Sabaya was wheeling and dealing with the AFP general of that area over how to split up any ransom that might be paid.… Sabaya was willing to give the general 20 percent of the action. But the messenger reported back that this wasn’t enough. The general wanted 50 percent when his own government condemned the ransom concept altogether. We weren’t really surprised at this, as over the years we had read newspaper articles about generals’ wives installing floors of smuggled marble in Corinthian Gardens, an elite section of Manila, and about their children attending the best schools abroad. These things don’t happen on a Filipino general’s salary.”

Pardon my saying so, but all that is hearsay. In fairness to the military, Gracia was just passing on in her book bits and pieces of unverified claims made by her captors.

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NO TRUST IN MEDIA: Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has a point in asking why the media was barred from the proceedings. What would stop other judges hearing other cases from whimsically doing the same thing?

The judge and/or the American visitors did not trust Philippine media? This matter of trust refers to at least two things:

  1. That one or some members of media may just attempt to harm the prized witness specially delivered from America.
  2. Philippine media cannot be trusted to give a fair and accurate account of her testimony.

Either why, it is not flattering to us in media and to us Filipinos in general.

There are cases where a closed-door hearing is justified, but in Gracia’s case nobody bothered to explain the special handling.

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DEFENSE CROSS: Note that the defense is entitled to cross-examine the witness. How will the court treat a possible defense motion to summon Gracia so she can be cross-examined on her direct testimony of last Thursday?

Will the judge quiver in fear because she is an American who moves around with a squad of FBI agents?

Regarding those exotic weapons that the FBI guards displayed, was a formal request made for such display of weaponry inside the courthouse? Or did the FBI agents just walked in with Gracia and no official dared to raise even an eyebrow?

Let’s reverse the situation. If a Filipino from Manila is summoned to testify in Kansas, will he/she be allowed to bring in NBI agents toting assault weapons because he does not feel safe in America? If yes, thank you. If not, why not?

This is not a minor detail. It speaks volumes. It speaks of decades of inequities that have marked Philippine-American relations.

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PINAY SHINES: Have you heard this? A 24-year-old Filipino-American college biology instructor and cancer researcher at the George Washington University has been crowned Miss District of Columbia 2004.

Therese Lorraine Diza Lizardo, a cum laude graduate from GWU with a triple baccalaureate degree (biology, psychology and women’s studies), bested 10 other finalists in a coronation ceremony last July 10, in Washington, DC. She will represent DC in the Miss America Pageant scheduled in Atlantic City on Sept. 18.

The 2004 Miss District of Columbia Pageant criteria say that a contender for the title must be “an intelligent young woman who possesses dignity, poise, charm, good manners, beauty and outstanding talent.”

Lizardo’s court includes first runner-up Maria Glover, a law student at Vanderbilt University, and second runner-up Alisha Jones, an MA student at Yale University.

Lizardo is pursuing a doctor of medicine degree at GWU. She is the only daughter of Rudy and Dr. Lorie Lizardo of Watchung, NJ.

A Pembroke Oxford Rhodes Scholar alternate, president of GWU’s Philippine Cultural Society from 2001-2002, and a GWU radio host (WRGW Radio), Lizardo won her first national title at 15, when she was chosen America’s Favorite Teen Princess in a national competition in Florida in 1994.

She is the vice president of the Filipino Young Professionals of Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan area, and is the choreographer of the organization’s dance troupe.

On June 26, 2004, she was a lecturer at a Youth Leadership Conference held at Woodbridge Hilton sponsored by the Foundation of Philippine-American Medical Society of New Jersey Inc.

Lizardo was also named Miss Philippine-American Friendship 1995.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 1, 2004)

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