POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Senate-embassy tandem can foil Bolante asylum bid

TAMA NA YAN!: What are opposition solons yapping about President Gloria Arroyo’s health? If you look closely at our congressmen, you will see half of them sicklier than the President. Many of them go to the hospital more often than she does.

Her doctors sent Ms Arroyo to St. Luke’s Medical Center twice this year, first for diarrhea and later for flu. No big deal.

She went to the hospital, because she is the President and because she could afford it. If she were the average Filipino, she would have stayed home and been cured just the same. Trankaso? Walang kaso!

That provision in the new Constitution that some nitpicking congressmen cite when they demand that the President confess the true state of her health was inserted there to make sure we do not see a repeat of the Marcosian scenario of a bed-ridden President not seen for days, with old film clips shown on TV to simulate his presence, and later betraying blotches and bumps on his face when he is finally propped up before the camera to show he was still breathing.

On the other hand, President Arroyo is very active and very visible. Like a mini-whirlwind, she inspects projects, visits calamity areas, presides over meetings, attends functions, goes on grueling trips — and is well covered by media. People mill around her one would think an election campaign were ongoing.

We have in Ms Arroyo probably the hardest working president in living memory. Many congressmen I know would not be able to keep up with her if they stopped loafing and tagged along for a week.

But her doctors are right. She should slow down. She is no Superwoman.

* * *

FATE SEALED: The Senate’s entry into the case of former agriculture secretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante applying for asylum in the United States may have doomed his petition now being heard in Chicago.

The key here is the tandem of the Senate committee on agriculture chaired by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and the US embassy in Manila, which reportedly cancelled Bolante’s temporary visitor’s visa on the representation of the senator.

The embassy has clammed up on the case, finding an excuse to do so in the fact that Bolante’s petition for asylum is sub judice before a US immigration court.

Magsaysay had asked the embassy to cancel Bolante’s visa after the latter snubbed the agriculture committee’s hearings on the alleged misuse of more than P700 million in fertilizer funds during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Bolante, an associate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and his fellow Rotarian, is suspected as having masterminded the alleged diversion of the funds to the presidential campaign.

* * *

FOLLOWUP: With that background, and with the expectation that the US embassy will act consistently on something it believes in, Bolante’s petition for asylum — based mainly on his claim that communist rebels are out to kill him — is likely to be rejected.

Between that self-serving claim, which remains to be proved, and the combined weight of the American embassy and the Philippine Senate, plus other opposition to the asylum bid, US authorities hearing Bolante’s case are likely to give credence to the latter.

In followup of his earlier moves, Magsaysay has sent a letter containing the Senate committee report on the fertilizer fund scandal to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

He said in his letter that Bolante was just seeking a haven in the US to avoid possible charges of graft, money laundering and malversation of funds. He added that the Senate has issued an arrest warrant against Bolante for his repeated refusal to attend Senate hearings on the fertilizer fund.

* * *

COMITY CITED: Responding to press questions, Sen. Franklin Drilon has said that Magsaysay’s representations with US authorities “would carry weight, probative value.”

He said that the Magsaysay committee report, which was adopted by the Senate, “should be recognized by the US government on the principle of comity, which gives respect and recognition to official documents issued by a sovereign state.”

“In the same manner, we recognized the certification issued by the Singapore government on the Garcillano flight in Singapore,” he said. “That is the same principle that I would like to think will be accorded the report of the Senate on the fertilizer scam and Mr. Bolante.”

A group of lawyers from the University of the Philippines headed by law professor Harry Roque has asked also to be allowed to appear in the asylum hearings as an amicus (friend) of the court advising against granting the petition.

Aside from the Senate findings, the lawyers’ group also cited a declaration of the communist New People Army that although it was aware of the circumstances of Bolante’s flight, it has not marked him for assassination.

* * *

AFTERTHOUGHT: If US authorities accept any joker’s alleged fear for his life as basis for granting him asylum, there would be a tidal wave of Filipinos rushing to the US to gain entry and residence by simply claiming on a wad of affidavits to have received death threats.

In Bolante’s case, it is actually not fear for his life, but fear of being prosecuted in Manila.

If it is really assassination troubling him, it will not be by NPA hit squads but by hired guns of political groups who may want to silence him.

An examination of Bolante’s I-94 arrival form filled out by him before landing in Los Angeles last July 7 could show that there was no mention of asylum or fear for his life as purpose of his US visit.

If my assumption is correct, we can conclude that his asylum petition was just an afterthought, or a suggestion of his imaginative lawyer.

He was previously in the US, flew to Seoul, then came back — to be informed upon arrival that his visa had been cancelled. He was then held at the San Pedro Service Processing Center in Los Angeles.

That was obviously where and when he thought of that asylum angle — a long shot I would say.

If the threats to his life were true, he should have sought protection or asylum on his previous arrival (before he went to Korea). The dates on his various declarations would be interesting.

* * *

CHECK RECORDS: The normal procedure for a foreigner who comes in without a valid US visa is for him to be turned around — not really deported but merely sent back to where he came from — on the myth that he has not legally arrived in the US.

A traveler is deported if he has been allowed entry already. Bolante was barred.

At whose expense is the return flight? Incoming visitors are required to have an onward or return ticket.

At the Manila international airport, passengers departing for the US (and I suppose other countries) are checked if they have a return or onward ticket and a valid visas for their intended destination.

That Bolante was able to leave Manila means either that the checker at the airport saw his tickets, passport and US visa to be in order, or somebody facilitated his departure without the usual scrutiny.

Somebody should check on his departure record, but strangely, the administration seems to be not interested. In fact, there seems to be a top-level conspiracy to prevent the filing of criminal cases against him.

This detail is important to those protecting Bolante. The moment a criminal case is filed, there develops a basis for asking the US for his extradition. It seems some nervous big shots do not want Bolante to be brought back to the country.

* * *

TELL THE TRUTH: Why does not Bolante just make a clean breast of it? Let me repeat my unsolicited advice in the July 18 Postscript (visit www.manilamail.com). Perchance this would reach him or his family:

Faced with a choice between cleansing your name and covering up for some people, between serving the interest of your family and that of others, the choice is — or should be — clear.

Bolante can learn from the ordeal of former election commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcellano, who had to hide amid accusations that he had helped President Arroyo cheat in the 2004 elections.

On the run, Garci was like a rat scurrying away with every rustle in the wind. But when finally he decided to return to Manila to face his inquisitors, the critics’ circus tent collapsed.

It was the same liberating experience for former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez, who volunteered to fly back to the US and face charges that he made illegal contributions to the campaign chest of then President Bill Clinton.

Jimenez admitted his mistake, plea bargained, came off with a shorter jail term, and returned to Manila intact. The Republican hounds are no longer snapping at his heels that now have found rest at home with his family.

That is the saner and less stressful route that I suggest Bolante take. He should think of himself and his family rather than of others who had simply used him. He would then discover that, indeed, the Truth shall set him free.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 13, 2006)

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