POSTSCRIPT / July 16, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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The big joke is on us in Joc-Joc saga in LA

EXCITABLE MEDIA: The news about former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante being held in Los Angeles broke early this week when a radio anchor excitedly told his station on air that Bolante had been arrested at that port and was asking Malacanang to help produce $100,000 for his bail.

Obviously the anchor failed to ask himself or his sources (1) why Bolante was arrested when there was no known criminal charge nor a warrant pending against him, and (2) if he was not facing charges, why the need for bail?

The rest of media picked up the story and, for days, kept repeating that Bolante was “arrested” and that the Palace was secretly moving to assist him since he had helped President Gloria Arroyo use fertilizer funds to win the 2004 presidential elections.

The “Joc-Joc” saga illustrates how we in media sometimes trip because of laziness or lack of preparation for stories that we cover.

Compounding the problem is the dearth of official information on the situation of Bolante, who is reportedly staying at the San Pedro immigration detention center near LA.

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NOT ARRESTED: Reading skimpy reports, I get the impression that Bolante was not “arrested” as first reported over the radio, but merely detained after his temporary visitor’s visa (B1/B2) was cancelled.

My impression is that he entered LA from Korea on July 7 unaware that US immigration authorities have instructions to cancel his visa if and when he shows up at a port of entry.

The term “detained” may not even be accurately applied to him, because it appears that he was simply barred from entering the US because he had been deprived of his visa on the spot.

Can American officials cancel the visa of a visitor arriving in good faith? Of course, they can. It is their country.

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APPEAL ALLOWED: The normal procedure in such a situation is for the visitor to be turned around and flown back to his country of origin. (Note that visitors are required to have valid return or onward tickets).

For the information of our countrymen who might find themselves in a similar situation (being barred entry despite the US visa stamped on one’s passport), an alien refused entry may appeal to the immigration inspector’s supervisor.

If still not satisfied with the supervisor’s action, the visitor being barred may inform the immigration officials attending to him that he wants a lawyer since he intends to argue his case in court.

Once the case becomes sub judice, the visitor may be allowed to stay. If he is granted a parole visa, he may move around the country and transact normal business within the rules. A smart lawyer can prolong the process and enable his client to stay more than the usual maximum six months.

But most Filipinos who are barred usually agree to take the next flight out rather than run the risk of being deported after spending time in jail. Being turned around is different from (“better than”) being deported, which is more derogatory in nature.

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EXCESS DOLLARS?: As far as I can make it, Bolante was not that stupid to carry a fake or expired visa. I assume that, to his surprise, his visa was physically invalidated only when he presented it in LA.

For what reason it was cancelled we can only speculate.

We can speculate, for instance, that he may have been carrying too large (more than $10,000) an amount of dollars without declaring them — an omission that is a violation of the rules. Carrying a large amount is not a crime, but the holder must declare it.

Or there might actually be a criminal case already filed against him in the US, except that the world has not been told about it. (On the Philippine side, no criminal charge has been filed.)

Or the US embassy in Manila that issued his visa had second thoughts after being swamped by reports that Bolante was involved in the illegal transfer and use of millions in government funds.

Now this is a serious angle, if true, because it goes against the general principle held dear even in US jurisprudence that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. I doubt if the US embassy did that.

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ASYLUM: Assuming there are no criminal charges against Bolante to warrant his arrest, US immigration authorities could have just sent him back to Manila. Why didn’t they?

The reports from LA leave the impression that Bolante himself does not want to return to Manila, not yet anyway, and will fight tooth and nail to stay on that side of the Pacific.

One recourse is for him to apply for asylum. But there are certain requirements for the grant of such a status.

The applicant can try proving that he is being persecuted in the Philippines, or that he is almost sure to be assassinated if he returned.

Again, a good lawyer can prolong the process of seeking asylum (look at NDF’s Joma Sison overstaying in the Netherlands) and in effect ensure Bolante a haven while his petition goes around.

All these options require a lot of money. No problem. Bolante has plenty of that.

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EPCIB ROW CLEARED: The landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in a corporate dispute at the Equitable PCIBank is so clear that even non-lawyers like me can understand it.

Throwing out a plea of businessman Ferdinand Martin Romualdez to order his reinstatement as a board and committee officer, the tribunal said that it will not interfere in the powers of the board of directors on who to appoint in various company positions.

That is a purely internal affair of corporations, the high court said in dismissing the motion.

The SC agreed with the contention of the EPCIB board that Section 10 (a) of the by-laws of the bank vests in the board “the power to elect those corporate officers as may be deemed necessary by the board of directors.”

The court cited Section 25 of the Corporation Code, which provides that “it is the directors of the corporation who elect the corporate officers, who, excepting the president, generally need not even be directors themselves.”

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NO LEGAL BASIS: The court added that it is the board that has the “sole discretion to organize those committees of the corporation that it sees fit to create, and to appoint the members thereof.”

It noted that “Trans Middle East (Phils.) Equities Inc. does not point to any provision of law or the by-laws that would enable (Romualdez) to sit on his previous committees, and we can reasonably presume that there is none.”

TMEE is entitled to one board seat to represent a 7.13-percent block of shares that are being claimed by the government for allegedly being part of the illegally acquired wealth of Benjamin Romualdez, brother-in-law of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos and younger brother of former Ffirst Lady Imelda Marcos.

The Lopez family is also claiming ownership of these shares in an action filed in December 1988.

On the basis of those shares, the young Romualdez was re-installed by the SC as a board member on June 9. But the court denied on July 11 his subsequent petition to regain his board vice chairmanship, chairmanship of the trust committee and membership in various committees.

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MERALCO RELENTING?: How long can the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) resist government pressure for it to approve a power supply contract with YNN Pacific Consortium whose $562-million bid won the 600-megawatt power plant in Masinloc, Zambales?

A top-level meeting has been scheduled tomorrow where government runners are expected to press approval of the YNN deal before the expiry on Aug. 11 of a 40-day grace period given defaulting YNN to pay a binding $227-million down payment.

Behind YNN is the Malaysian firm Ranhill Berhad, which has advanced the $14.14-million performance bond of YNN and promised to buy out YNN shareholders for $8 million and assume YNN financial obligations.

Ranhill has said that it will part with its money (actually to be borrowed from a bank) only if Meralco signs the supply contract with YNN. If it succeeds, this will be a bizarre case of a non-bidder winning the bidding for Masinloc.

* * *

QUESTIONS: Meralco’s latest press release on YNN was so carefully crafted to leave the door wide open for the power distribution firm managed by the Lopezes to sign a contract with YNN.

But Meralco’s statement actually raised more questions.

For one, why is Meralco breaking its silence only now? If there was true transparency, why was it carrying on secret negotiations with YNN these past few months?

Why was Meralco management avoiding media queries on whether or not they were negotiating with YNN? (It had to take the Philippine Stock Exchange’s demand for an explanation for them to formally admit the secret talks.)

What do the Manolo Lopez-led board now have to say about Meralco negotiating with YNN in spite of the board’s own policy requiring public bidding for such contracts?

The “secret maneuverings” leave many of us suspecting that attractive incentives are being promised some people involved from YNN’s P200-250 million marketing fees and YNN boss Sunny Sun’s P450 million windfall from Ranhill should he succeed in delivering a Meralco contract.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 16, 2006)

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