"In societies where Robbing Hoods are treated like a celebrity it is but natural to expect political parties to act like a Mafia syndicate" Political Jaywalker "In a nation where corruption is endemic people tend to confuse due process with aiding and abetting criminals" Political Jaywalker "War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left" Bertrand Russell "You have just one flash flood of money, you keep your people poor. It's like a time bomb and it's scary" Philippine Lawmaker

Jocjoc Bolante saga not a joking matter

By Dionesio C. Grava

A recent issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes Columnist Conrado de Quiros, thus:

"Such was his loathing, fear, or dread of coming home, he begged, pleaded with, and cajoled US authorities to allow him to rot in their prisons forever. It completely subverts our classic image of the Filipino exile behind bars sobbing, “Ibalik ‘nyo ko sa Pilipinas!” [Bring me back to the Philippines! ] Here you have a fellow sobbing “Huwag ‘nyo akong iharap kay—” [Don’t bring mo—] well, it’s a tossup between the Senate and Mike Arroyo."

It was apparent that very influential parties had been shielding former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante from being questioned about the truth. As far as I am concerned, for example, officials of the Los Angeles Philippine consulate general had been trying to keep the public in the dark about the issue while he was still here.

Sometime on the second week of July, 2006, days after Jocjoc was detained by immigration authorities in Los Angeles, community journalists consisting of Editor Momar Visaya of L.A. Asian Journal, Editor Rhony Laigo of Diaryo Pilipino, Editor James Saspa of BALITA, Nimfa Rueda of the Inquirer and this writer were invited to a press forum with the Representative of Quezon, Lorenzo Tanada III. The congressman was at that time in his last leg of a U.S. tour to advocate the second attempt to impeach Pres. Gloria Arroyo.

I felt even then that officials of the Philippine consulate made efforts to have the matter about Bolante’s arrest under wraps. Then Consul General Willy Gaa did not attend the session held at his own conference room. His deputy consul general, Ma. Hellen Barber, was seated right beside the congressman but was mum about the Bolante issue all throughout the event. She even hurriedly left the room, and the VIP guest, towards the end of the session. An Inquirer story later quoted Congressman Tanada, thus: ”It’s so ironic. There I was, talking about Bolante at the consulate, and it turns out he had already been arrested. The Co
nsulate and the DFA apparently know about the arrest and yet decided not to say anything about it.”

On July 14 I sent an email inquiry to officials concerned at the LA consulate whether or not they would be issuing a press statement regarding the Bolante development. It turned out that, according to DCG Barber, there was already a statement issued on the matter two days earlier. I didn't know about that despite the fact that I had been a regular recipient of informative notices and press releases from the consulate. In the statement the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles confirmed the detention of the former official upon his arrival in Los Angeles on July 7, 2006, aboard an Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul. The consulate extended consular assistance to Mr. Bolante to ensure that his rights, especially the right to due process, are recognized and respected under US laws, the statement added. It did not mention about the rights of our people to expect integrity and trustworthiness from public officials. All inquiries related to the case was to be referred to his lawyer and spokesman who was based in the Philippine.

Days later I was wi
th a group of print and TV journalists lining up at the gate of the immigration detention facility (aka Service Processing Center) in Terminal Island, San Pedro, to cover Bolante's hearing scheduled that day. Anyone desiring to experience what strenuous scrutiny of credentials is should try it sometimes. We were then gathered inside a vacant conference room only to be told that it was a closed hearing and we were not allowed to attend. Director for Communications Virginia Kice of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, Western Region, said that under U.S. laws either the detainee or the government may request for a closed hearing. Bolante was later transferred to another immigration facility in the East Coast.

Marlene Esperat, at that time an employee of Dept. of Agriculture, was said to have initiated the case against his boss, Bolante. She later filed a conspiracy case for violation of RA 3019 regarding illegal use of public funds, with the Ombudsman against Bolante and other DA officials.

The case filed by Esperat involved P 432 million. Another case was filed by lawyer Frank Chavez alleging a
fertilizer scam involving P728 million. Still later two identical cases, one involving P 544 million taken from the Marcos-recovered assets and P 1.1 billion coming from a package of funds – including some foreign grants and loans – were also uncovered later.

On March 24, 2005, Marlene Esperat was shot dead by an assassin while she was having dinner with her children at their home in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.

Bolante had close relationship with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. The DA official allegedly dispensed the fertilizer funds from the DA's "Ginintuang Masaganang Ani" (GMA) program to buy the support of congressmen, governors and mayors during the May 10, 2004 national and local elections. The Philippine Senate committee probing the “scam” issued an arrest warrant for Bolante after he twice refused to appear before that committee in 2005. Before he could be arrested, however, Bolante left Manila for Los Angeles in October of that year.

Ado Paglinawan, a former diplomat who circulated the De Quiros' article, wrote: "Bolante’s worst fear is if and when co-accused masterminds Montaner and Sabay in the extrajudicial killing of Marlene Esperat, starts plea bargaining and chanting his name as the next-level mastermind of the assassination. It was indictment to this that was what he was escaping from the last time he skipped town in a huff…”

“Who knows?” Paglinawan added, “This episode might even find its way confluencing with the impeachment initiative of the De Venecias, that when handled with integrity and deliberateness, could be the final nail on Arroyo's political coffin."

I say amen to that. Hopefully, now that Bolante is finally in the clutches of authorities who have the capabilities to prosecute him, our people would be extra vigilant such that this final reckoning would not
turn out to be another big joke of our system of government.
Dionesio C. Grava - Community journalist based in Los Angeles. Member of New America Media, Society of Professional Journalists, and Society of Environmental Journalists, among others.

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