Nearly five years after agricultural funds meant for fertilizer were allegedly misused, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has come up with its findings. The committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon recommended yesterday the filing of charges against former agriculture under-secretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, his purported runner Marites Aytona, alleged bagman Jaime Paule and six others for plunder, technical malversation, money laundering, tax evasion and perjury. A 10th individual, Joselito Flordeliza, who headed the foundation used in the alleged P728-million scam, may face prosecution for money laundering.
There are three things that must be done to ensure that the Blue Ribbon probe does not go to waste. The most immediate task is to prevent any of the individuals recommended for criminal prosecution from leaving the country. If there is no legal basis to prevent their departure, the government should at least keep track of their whereabouts. Under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, signatory states are duty-bound to extradite individuals wanted for corruption.
The second task is to effectively prosecute and punish the guilty. This scandal has dragged on long enough. Gordon said his committee has enough evidence to build an airtight case against the people recommended for prosecution. There is no reason to delay their indictment.
The third task is to implement measures to prevent a repeat of the fertilizer scam or any other diversion of public funds to private war chests, especially with general elections approaching. The Blue Ribbon committee is seeking amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Bank Secrecy Act and the Procurement Act as well as the Senate’s rules of procedure on direct contempt.
Amending those three laws can also help prevent a repeat of other anomalies such as the rigging of bids for infrastructure projects and the collection of fat commissions for brokering deals with the government. Congress can get to work immediately on those amendments for approval before lawmakers become too busy with their election campaigns. Even if government prosecutors drag their feet on this case, something positive should come out of this scandal.
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Blue Ribbon committee found no direct evidence linking President Arroyo to the P728-million fertilizer scam in 2004 but inferred that she “acquiesced” to the acts of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and other government officials implicated in the scandal by her inaction.
Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon told reporters yesterday that the corollary rule to the control powers of the President was called the “doctrine of qualified political agency.”
In a 130-page report, the committee concluded: “Since there was no reprobation or disapproval coming from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regarding their actions, it can easily be inferred that President Arroyo acquiesced to such acts.”
“Does anyone really believe that Bolante, et al would have been able to malverse such a gargantuan amount and continue to evade all sorts of liability without acquiescence of Malacañang?” said Gordon.
The Blue Ribbon committee wrapped up the fertilizer fund scam probe at the Senate with the 130-page report citing only 10 personalities, including Bolante, who face charges ranging from plunder to money laundering.
In his report, Gordon also noted that Mrs. Arroyo’s knowledge of the fertilizer scam was alluded to by former Department of Budget Management (DBM) secretary Emilia Boncodin in her testimony during the 13th Congress.
The Gordon report quoted a portion of the first committee report made by then Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., which said: “When asked if the fertilizer fund request made by Usec. Bolante for the DA was upon the instruction of the President, Sec. Boncodin replied with: ‘I would imagine so.’”
Gordon said the doctrine of qualified political agency provides that all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the executive department.
“The President is the chief administration office of the government. While the Constitution is not explicit about this position, by reason of her being the chief executive and the head of government, she exercises and wields all administrative powers inherent in her position,” said a portion of the executive summary of the committee report.
“Thus, while the Committee found no evidence directly linking the President to the fertilizer scam, the acts of the former undersecretary of the DA, Mr. Jocelyn Bolante, and his cohorts, now Usec. Belinda Gonzales and now GSIS Vice President Ibarra Poliquit, are deemed acts of the President since they acted within the scope of their authorities given by then Sec. Luis Lorenzo,” the committee report said.
Plunder, other charges
In the 12-page executive summary of the committee report, the Blue Ribbon panel had recommended the filing of plunder charges against Bolante.
Aside from Bolante, those recommended to be charged for plunder are former DA assistant secretary Poliquit, Leonicia Llarena, Feshan Philippines president Julie Gregorio, Feshan Philippines vice president Redentor Antolin, Marilyn Araos, Marites Aytona, Jaime Paule and DA Usec. Gonzales.
Gordon’s committee made the recommendation after it conducted hearings from Nov. 13 last year until Jan. 26.
Gordon cited evidence which showed that the personalities personally took part in the execution of the “act acquiring ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts in the total value of at least P50 million.”
Apart from plunder, the committee also recommended that Bolante be slapped with technical malversation, money laundering, false testimony/perjury; Poliquit, technical malversation; Llarena, malversation and false testimony/perjury in solemn affirmation; Gregorio with tax evasion, money laundering, and disobedience to summons by the National Assembly; Antolin, money laundering; Araos, money laundering; Aytona, money laundering, tax evasion, false testimony/perjury and disobedience to summons; Paule, money laundering, false testimony/perjury; Gonzales, technical malversation; and Joselito Flordeliza, money laundering.
‘Pack of wolves’
In a press conference, Gordon likened Bolante and his companions to a “pack of wolves operating in the government.”
He did not discount the speculations that the funds were used “to help those who will run under the administration party including myself” in the 2004 elections.
While Gordon readily admitted to have been part of the administration coalition in 2004, the senator said he did not benefit from the fertilizer fund scam.
According to him, the Senate is also recommending amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law by extending the period of freeze order from an additional six months to two years.
The freeze order on the assets of Bolante was lifted last December at the height of the Senate’s reopening of the inquiry.
There is also a proposed revision to the AMLA Rules and the Bank Secrecy Act to exempt public officers charged before the courts for violations of sections 3(b) and (c) under the Corrupt Practices of Public Officers.
The amendment of the procurement act would focus on the inclusion of private institutions, non-government organizations, people’s organizations and private entities that receive government monies in the coverage of the Procurement Act.
Amendments were also recommended to the Rules of Procedure governing inquiries in aid of legislation on direct contempt and the suggested standard provision to be added to the General Appropriations Act every year.
Gordon also scored the Office of the Ombudsman for dragging its feet on the issue.
The Blue Ribbon chair called for the amendment of the Constitution to make the Ombudsman an elective rather than an appointive position.
He noted that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is known to be close to First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, as both were reportedly schoolmates at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“We need an Ombudsman beholden to the people,” Gordon said.
The Gordon report is the second committee report dished out by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee which had recommended the filing of charges against former agriculture secretary Lorenzo, Bolante, Poliquit, Gonzales, Asec. Felix Montes, and all regional directors of the DA who participated illegally in all the transactions related to the scam.
This was in the 13th Congress when the Blue Ribbon was still headed by Sen. Magsaysay.
The Magsaysay report also cited for contempt Lorenzo and Poliquit as well as Bolante, who then fled to the United States, which was “deemed to be a deliberate attempt to escape the jurisdiction of the Senate.”
“His flight was a clear indication of guilt,” Gordon said.
It was only when Bolante came back to the country last November that the Senate reopened the fertilizer scam inquiry.
Then Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. directed the Senate Sgt-At-Arms to enforce the arrest order against Bolante upon his return/deportation from the US where he lost his appeal for political asylum.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mar Roxas said the Senate Blue Ribbon committee report on the P728- million fertilizer fund scam illustrates the system of syndicated corruption within the government that flourished under President Arroyo.
“We have proven again and again corruption in government, and the fertilizer scam showed how officials manipulate the system to rob the coffers of the government,” Roxas said.
Roxas said Gutierrez should resign for failing to prosecute Bolante for allegedly masterminding the diversion scheme.
He stressed that overwhelming evidence – both direct and circumstantial, and documentary and testimonial – have been gathered by the committee against Bolante, giving no space for Gutierrez to claim that her office needs additional proof to pin down the former DA official.
By Christina Mendez
Updated February 24, 2009 12:00 AM
DON’T look now, but more and more farmers are planting Bt corn, the GMO or genetically modified corn variety that many anti-biotech people had been condemning. Last year, at least 200,000 small corn farmers planted and made money from Bt corn, planting some 350,000 hectares.
The fast increasing popularity of Bt corn with local farmers could be easily gauged by the fact that in 2005, only 10,000 hectares were planted to this transgenic crop. Last year, the figure increased 35 times.
One avid grower of Bt corn is a widow, 54-year-old Lydia Lapastora of Brgy. Yeban Norte, Benito Soliven, Isabela. She has been planting Bt corn since 2005 when the same was first allowed to be commercially grown in the country. Despite the admonition of the priest in her hometown, she planted Bt corn and is really glad she did.
Last year, Lydia planted Bt corn on 10 hectares and harvested an average of 6.4 tons per hectare. That’s almost double the average of 3.57 tons per hectare harvested by corn farmers nationwide. On the average, she realized an additional net profit of P11,000 per hectare as a result of planting Bt corn. Since she planted two times on the same area last year, she really made a significant income from this GMO
The Bt corn, by the way, is more profitable to grow because it does not require any chemical spraying against the very destructive corn earworm that damages a lot of corn crops. This resists corn attack because the gene of Bacillus thuringensis, a natural enemy of corn earworm has been incorporated in the transgenic corn. Chemical pesticides are not only expensive, they also poison the environment. That is why Bt corn is actually considered environmentally friendly.
Corn is the only genetically modified crop that is being commercially grown in the Philippines. In other countries like the United States, Brazil, China and India, millions of hectares are now planted to transgenic soybean, cotton, corn and a few other crops. Work is under way, however, on the development of transgenic papaya and eggplant. The potentials of transgenic crops are really great but adequate research and development funds are badly needed. So are the right policies of the government.
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FREE-RANGE CHICKEN SEMINAR IN DAVAO. There will be a seminar on raising Sunshine free-range chicken on Feb. 19, at 3 p.m. at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City. It will be conducted by Dr. Rey Itchon of Solraya Enterprises. Sunshine chicken is a fast-growing breed from France which grows fast and tastes like the native chicken. Email: email@example.com
Zac B. Sarian