Bolante rejects consular help

By Jose Katigbak
STAR Washington bureau
The Philippine Star 07/14/2006

WASHINGTON — Former [Philippines] agriculture undersecretary
Jocelyn Bolante, who was arrested by US immigration officials in Los
Angeles last July 7, rejected consular representation at an immigration
hearing of his case, following Malacañang’s reported refusal to help
post a $100,000 bond for his temporary release.

“He requested the hearing on Wednesday be held privately so we did not send a representative,” Consul Helen Barber said.

Barber said she did not know what transpired at the hearing and
a spokeswoman for the immigration and customs enforcement in Los
Angeles said she could not immediately comment on the case.

Bolante was detained on arrival at Los Angeles airport from Seoul after his B1-B2 visa was canceled.

The B visa category is reserved for individuals seeking to
enter the United States for short periods for business or pleasure. A
B1 visa allows foreign doctors or scientists to enter the US to attend
meetings and conferences while a B2 visa is for all tourist-related
travel, including visiting friends and relatives. 

The Consulate General in a statement said all queries about Bolante should be coursed through his Manila lawyer Antonio Zulueta.

At a press conference yesterday, Justice Secretary Raul
Gonzalez denied insinuations that the Arroyo administration had a hand
in the cancellation of Bolante’s US visa.

Gonzalez said the government wants to distance itself from Bolante’s case as it might trigger more speculations.

“Right now, that (Bolante’s case) is between the US government
and Bolante. The government has nothing to do with it,” he stressed.

Gonzalez also clarified that Bolante cannot avail himself of
political asylum in the United States because the case he is facing is
not political in nature. It is expected, he said, that Bolante would be
deported to the country by the US government because of his visa
problem.

Individuals arrested for visa-related cases are immediately
sent back to their country of origin. However, in Bolante’s case, the
former agriculture official was arrested and detained, which required
the involvement of both countries’ law enforcement authorities, fanning
speculations that it was not merely a consular matter but involves
serious charges.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, in a chance interview at the
Dusit Hotel in Makati City, insisted however that it is a law
enforcement issue.

“It is a matter that our law enforcement authorities are
coordinating on. So, I can’t have any comment or information to say
because it is a law enforcement issue,” Kenny said. “I am really
pleased with how well our law enforcement authorities work together. It
is really a big example of the kind of cooperation that we have.”

Meanwhile, the US Immigration has yet to announce the reason for the cancellation of Bolante’s visa.

Barber told The STAR that the Philippine Consulate
General in Los Angeles first became aware of Bolante’s arrest after his
son called Ambassador Willy Gaa Friday night to inquire about his
father.

Gaa asked the consulate legal officer Naomi Diaz to look into
the matter and found out Bolante was being held at the San Pedro
detention center near Los Angeles.

Clamor for extradition

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr.,
chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture, said the pressure is
now on the Office of the Ombudsman to file a case against Bolante to
facilitate his extradition from the US.

Various groups have clamored for Bolante’s extradition to the
Philippines, including the staunch anti-Arroyo group Laban ng Masa
(LnM).

“If they are really interested in clearing the administration,
then they should do what they have to do to bring back Bolante here in
the Philippines,” LnM chairman Francisco Nemenzo told reporters
following a press conference of the Alyansa ng Maliliit na Magbubukid
at Mangingisda (AMMM), who were also pressing for Bolante’s
extradition.

“The point is not mainly about Bolante’s return to the
country. What we are after, as with the rest of the Filipino people, is
to know the truth about the fertilizer scam. It is in our interest that
Bolante returns to shed light on the issue,” Nemenzo added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Joel Virador said it is the duty of the
government to extradite Bolante. “It is best for Malacañang to initiate
the extradition of Bolante to shed light on the controversies which
also involves them. Otherwise, this administration is evading justice
all in the name of saving the illegitimate president,” militant
lawmaker said.

In light of the clamor, Magsaysay said he has written
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to emphasize the urgency of resolving
the fertilizer fund scam, which has Bolante as one of the principal
suspects.

“With the arrest of Bolante in Los Angeles last July 7, it is
imperative that the necessary charges are immediately filed by the
Office of the Ombudsman to facilitate his extradition to the country
and to strengthen the Philippine government’s grip on Bolante,”
Magsaysay said.

Without a warrant of arrest issued by a judge against Bolante,
the Philippine government cannot request for extradition of Bolante
from the US government.

In his letter dated July 13, Magsaysay also reminded Gutierrez
that the Senate had already turned over to her office all the necessary
documents and evidence regarding the fertilizer fund scam last Feb. 20.

A committee report approved by the Senate on its investigation
into the fertilizer fund has also been submitted to the Ombudsman last
March 1.

Magsaysay also wrote to Presidential Anti-Graft Commission
(PAGC) chairman Dr. Constancia de Guzman inquiring about the status of
the fertilizer fund scam.

“Our investigation is ongoing. We are still gathering
documents from the auditors of local government units,” De Guzman said,
noting though that although the PAGC is conducting a probe on the
fertilizer fund scam, Bolante is no longer covered by the probe, as he
is no longer connected with government.

“We are only concerned with the administrative aspect of the
case. It is the Office of the Ombudsman who should investigate him
(Bolante),” she said.

‘Come home, clear your name’

Executive Secretary Eduardo
Ermita admitted yesterday that the government could not seek the
extradition of Bolante since there were no formal charges against him
in Philippine courts.

He said it would be better if Bolante, amid his visa problems
in the US, would just come home and voluntarily face investigations
here.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Bolante could explore all
legal options available to him, including asylum. He said Bolante would
be given “proper consular assistance” but remarked that the former
official had not asked Manila for help.

“In fairness, he never asked the Palace to help him. We are
confident that he will be accorded due process by the US authorities
and that this matter will be cleared up in due time,” Bunye said.

He did not comment though on opposition calls for Bolante to
be extradited so he can be investigated for allegedly acting as
President Arroyo’s bagman in dispensing money to help her win in the
hotly contested May 2004 presidential elections.

“There is a process for extradition. We leave this to US
authorities,” he said, reiterating that what is important now is to
ensure that his rights as a citizen are protected.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, however, expressed doubts on
the sincerity of the Arroyo administration to force Bolante back to the
country.

“Mrs. Arroyo will not allow fertilizer scam probers to have
access to Bolante,” he said. “If the government is serious in getting
to the bottom of the fertilizer scam, it should take active steps to
immediately extradite Bolante.”

For his part, Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said he believes the Bolante case is more of a deportation than an extradition case.

“Extradition is government to government, assuming our
government is initiating the extradition. I doubt if the government
would initiate,” he said.

Bolante is linked to an alleged P3-billion scam where funds
of the Department of Agriculture were reportedly channeled to
politicians who helped campaign for Mrs. Arroyo in the hotly contested
May 2004 presidential elections.

A Senate committee investigating the scandal ordered his
arrest after it found strong probable criminal culpability on his part
and former agriculture secretary Luisito Lorenzo.

Lorenzo is believed to be living in the Maryland area near
Washington DC. He was spotted last month at an annual Filipino fair to
celebrate Independence Day.With Jose Rodel Clapano, Pia
Lee-Brago, Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Ding
Cervantes, Mike Frialde, Katherine Adraneda, AFP

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