Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Senate sets ‘Joc-Joc’ free

The Senate released former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante on Wednesday after detaining him for a week for contempt over his alleged evasiveness and false testimony in an inquiry into the alleged P728-million fertilizer-fund scam.

Sen. Richard Gordon, the blue-ribbon committee chairman, signed the release order on the day that the panel filed criminal charges against Bolante before the Department of Justice.

According to Gordon, Bolante’s release is a consequence of the filing of the charges and did not mean that he had already purged himself of the contempt. Earlier, he said the Senate would continue to detain Bolante “until he purges himself of the contempt or if charges are filed against him.”

“After meeting with the other senators, we have agreed that we will release you. There were some reservations made by Senator [Panfilo] Lacson, and I respect that because he is the proponent but we are going to release you today,” Gordon told Bolante at the end of Wednesday’s hearing on the alleged fertilizer scam.

It was Lacson who moved for the arrest of Bolante for allegedly being evasive and lying when he testified at the blue-ribbon inquiry.

Bolante thanked the Gordon committee for his release and promised to appear at the next hearing on December 17.

Gordon said 10 senators agreed to release Bolante. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, the former chairman of the blue-ribbon, objected.

“Is the hearing over? It is still ongoing. Did Bolante purge himself of the contempt by telling the truth? No. So why should he be released?” Cayetano asked.

Gordon said the Senate is not the judge in the case of false testimony so it has to free Bolante.

“Can’t judge? Then why did they order his arrest in the first place? Was this just for show?” Cayetano again asked.

He claimed that Bolante’s release merely proved that the new Senate majority is one that is controlled by Malacañang allies.

On Tuesday, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said the Senate would be violating the constitutional rights of Bolante if it continued to detain him because there was already enough input for the Senate to arrive at policy determination.

Bolante testimonies

At the hearing, Bolante maintained that he never testified falsely and evasively during the hearings of November 13, 25 and 28.

“In the more than 15 hours that I had appeared at the hearings, I answered all questions. The questions were repetitive and I answered them the same way repeatedly. My answers will never change because everything that I said was true,” he said as he called for his release from Senate detention.

The hearing was also attended by officials of the Department of Agriculture, the Commission on Audit and of Feshan Philippines, the company that got P105-million worth of orders for liquid fertilizer.

Agriculture Undersecretary Belinda Gonzalez said the local governments, not the Agriculture department, were the ones that identified their suppliers. A Feshan executive disclaimed any personal knowledge of the fertilizer supply as he said that he was involved only in the semi-conductor side of the company, causing him to be scolded by the senators.

The blue-ribbon committee also failed to get data from the Anti-Money Laundering Council about the bank accounts of Bolante. The council’s executive director, Vicente Aquino, said they are still conducting a financial examination to determine if there were violations of the law against money laundering. He added that the law passed by Congress prohibits officials of the council from disclosing details about its discreet investigations.

Criminal charges

Before the Justice department’s prosecutor office, the Gordon committee, through lawyer Rodolfo Noel Quimbo, charged Bolante with disobedience to summons and eight counts of false testimony as provided for under Articles 150 and 183 of the Revised Penal Code.

In a 17-page complaint affidavit, Quimbo, also the Gordon committee’s secretary, said that there was enough probable cause to warrant the filing of the criminal charges against Bolante for violations of the penal code.

He explained that Article 150 is classified as a crime against public order and Bolante violated it when, on several instances, he refused to obey the Senate summons. Article 183, the lawyer said, is a crime against public interest, which is committed by giving false testimony in other cases and perjury in solemn affirmation.

Quimbo said Bolante should also be held criminally liable for his statement that distribution of funds by his office was a regular program feature of the Agriculture department. He cited testimonies by several Agriculture regional directors during the Senate’s November 25 hearing that “the disbursement of funds was never done in previous years or at any time after the acts and policies were implemented by the respondent [Bolante].”

The Senate had Bolante arrested on October 26 for allegedly lying in his testimony.

Supreme Court order

The suspected architect of the alleged fertilizer scam had filed a petition for habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court granted Tuesday.

The High Tribunal also ordered the blue-ribbon to make a verified return of the writ of habeas corpus before the Court of Appeals on or before December 12.

The appellate court’s Sixth Division will hear Bolante’s petition on that date. There, he will come face-to-face with another controversial figure—Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr.

Sabio, who months ago also hogged the limelight in connection with a bribery scandal at the appellate court, is now the head of the court’s Sixth Division that was assigned also on Wednesday to handle Bolante’s habeas petition.

He had accused his former friend, businessman Francis Roa de Borja, of attempting to bribe him with P10 million in exchange for his silence on the boardroom battle between the Meralco and Government Service Insurance System.

Sabio had just served a two-month suspension on orders of the Supreme Court for acts of impropriety.

-- Efren L. Danao And
William B. Depasupil - Manila Bulletin

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