POSTSCRIPT / September 12, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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US embassy, not INS, cancelled Bolante visa

IT’S OUT: It appears now from court documents that the US temporary visa of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joj-joc” Bolante was cancelled by the US embassy in Manila and not by the immigration authorities in Los Angeles upon his arrival.

This detail that had eluded the media was reported a month ago in our Postscript despite the embassy’s declining to comment on or give details of the case.

Postscript also said then that the embassy’s action came after the strong representation of the Senate committee on food and agriculture headed by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. The Senate had issued an arrest warrant against Bolante for snubbing the committee.

A lawyer who has access to court documents on Bolante’s bid for an extended US stay, either by a grant of asylum or some other status, reportedly said he (Bolante) mentioned these details in his affidavit before US authorities.

Bolante is being sought by the Senate to explain the sudden massive use of fertilizer funds, estimated at more than P700 million, before the 2004 elections. There is suspicion the largesse was used to boost the election bid of President Gloria Arroyo.

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EMBASSY’S ACTION: Postscript also speculated then that Bolante’s asylum bid is likely to be disapproved since his self-serving claim that his life is in danger cannot overturn the combined moral suasion of the US embassy and the Philippine Senate.

After weeks of speculation, Postscript said Aug. 13 that the combined influence of the US embassy and the Philippine Senate (with a Magsaysay heading the committee running after Bolante) will foil the elusive former official’s bid for a haven in the US.

The US embassy will have to go all out to justify its cancellation of Bolante’s B1-B2 visa. It would be disastrous for the US government to repudiate the official action of its diplomatic or consular establishment to accommodate an alien suspected of wrongdoing.

Back to the question of who cancelled Bolante’s visa, one of the reasons why I concluded early on that it was not cancelled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service upon his arrival in Los Angeles was the fact that the granting of visas is a function of the state department.

Immigration officials, who are under the Department of Justice, normally cannot just tamper with or reverse an official act (granting of a visa) of the Department of State.

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DEPORTATION DUE: My fearless forecast is that Bolante will be deported – but after a long, prolonged, process. He has not violated any US law yet, unless they can assemble a good case of money-laundering, so putting him in a US jail is out of the question.

I do not look at his detention as imprisonment. Since he no longer had a visa, he could not be allowed to enter the US. After he was denied entry, the logical next step is to turn him around — which is different from being deported — and sent home.

The reason why his departure for home is being delayed is that he decided to avail himself of his right to due process. Under existing procedures, he could apply for asylum, or some other status, if he could justify it.

But due process and the fact that Bolante has retained an influential law office may prolong his stay, albeit in detention, in the US where his family reportedly owns real property.

Bolante’s asylum and bail petitions will be heard by a Chicago immigration court on Sept. 13. His habeas corpus petition will be heard by the Wisconsin district court on Sept. 20.

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PAROLE VISA: Big immigration law offices in the US usually employ or have as co-owners or as consultants savvy former immigration officials. They also have connections.

Bolante’s lawyers, who must be charging him an arm and a leg, will do everything within their competence and influence, to prevent their client’s return to the Philippines.

Temporary visitor’s visas are normally applied for and granted in the traveler’s home country if there is a US consulate as in Manila. If Bolante wants a new temporary visitor’s visa, he would normally be advised to apply for one in Manila.

I can imagine that his lawyers will work for him to be issued a parole visa, possibly with an offer to post bail, which will allow him conditional stay outside detention while his case drags on.

If his lawyers know that they have a losing case but he wants to stay, a logical move is to delay final judgment, while Bolante and his contacts in Manila, said to include personalities in Malacanang, work out a political or financial solution to his problem.

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LIBERATING TRUTH: But as I keep saying, the best option for Bolante is to just step forward and tell the truth about the fertilizer fund. There is no sense in protecting others, even if they are/were his patrons, while putting his name and his family in jeopardy.

Truth has such liberating power. Bolante is cowering in fear and uncertainty because he refuses to admit the truth.

Let him face the truth, to bear witness to it, and he will see a huge window suddenly opening into his life with fresh air and sunshine rushing into his life.

This tell-the-truth option could dawn on him if somebody close to him or his family could just make an effort to talk to him/them.

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AFFIDAVIT DETAILS: Reports reaching Manila mention an affidavit of Bolante dated July 8, 2006, saying that an immigration officer interrogated him shortly after he was detained in Los Angeles in July.

INS officer Rene Arambulo reportedly told him: “You are inadmissible into the United States in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act because records indicate that your visa had been revoked by the United States Consular Office in Manila due to the arrest warrant issued to you by the Philippine Senate.”

He also said that he was not aware that the US embassy had canceled his visa. He was in the US earlier with a valid visa, but left for Korea. In the interval before his return to the US, his visa must have been cancelled without his knowledge.

Lawyer H. Harry Roque Jr., who has researched the case, said the affidavit was part of Bolante’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus before a federal district court in Wisconsin, where he is reportedly detained.

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POLITICAL ISSUES: But it seems the lawyer mixed his law and his politics when he concluded that “this confirms earlier suspicions that Bolante’s visa was canceled due to (US President George W. Bush’s) Presidential Directive No. 212 which denies safe haven in the US to kleptocrats.”

He was quoted to have added: “The message is clear: Filipino kleptocrats, go to Europe instead.” I doubt if the US would issue such a message driving undesirable aliens to Europe.

The lawyer was also quoted as saying that the cancellation of Bolante’s visa might indicate that “the Americans are very keen on the so-called fertilizer scam for reasons beyond its latest campaign against kleptocrats.”

In an extended comment, he reportedly added that Americans are “fully aware of how their Official Development Assistance under Public Law No. 480 was commingled and dispensed by Bolante for institutionalized vote-buying in the 2004 elections.”

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MORE INFO: In the same affidavit Bolante said that he was in the US from Jan. 2 to June 2, 2006, the time he was being sought by the Senate committee looking into the use of fertilizer funds.

If the “duration of stay” stamped on his I-94 arrival card was for six months, which is the normal maximum, he may have decided — like many aliens in the same situation facing an expiring stay — to go out for a while, then return and apply for another stay.

Theoretically, he could do this repeatedly if his visa allowed for multiple entries.

Arambulo, who took Bolante’s affidavit, asked him if he was aware that he was a wanted man in the Philippines. Bolante replied No.

The INS agent told him there was an arrest warrant against him issued by the Philippine Senate, but Bolante dismissed it as politically motivated.

He added in reply to other questions that his lawyer had advised him that he may legally ignore the Senate summons, which is not as coercive as a court subpoena.

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INTENDING IMMIGRANT: During his stay, he said, he attended his son’s graduation and had dental implants. As for his job, he said he was busy with agricultural business, real estate development and lending.

He said he wanted to enter the US last July and stay for two months to discuss business with friends before proceeding to Vancouver, Canada.

He said: “I intend to stay for about two months because I also have to see my dentist. I will also submit my expense report to the Rotary International in Chicago, being the treasurer in that group.”

The immigration officer later informed him that since he did not want to go back to the Philippines, he would have to be detained as an intending immigrant.

US immigration laws presume that an alien applying for entry is an intending immigrant until he can overturn that presumption. Immigration officers work with that premise stamped on their foreheads.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 12, 2006)

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