POSTSCRIPT / September 26, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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When businessmen have to support 2 rival gov'ts

NO CHOICE: It is wrong, but many businessmen have no choice but to support two rival governments.

As the duly constituted government collects taxes but is not able to assure the security of taxpayers, many businessmen are forced to pay protection money to rebel and other armed groups lording it over the area.

A doctor’s family in Davao City, for instance, has leased a 120-hectare plantation in Paquibato district and put up the Philippine Fresh Fruits Development Corp. to grow Ecuadorean dwarf bananas for export at $2.40 a pack.

The firm used to pay P50,000 a month to the New People’s Army. But the local rebel command led by one Leonardo Pitao or Kumander Paragu reportedly raised the “revolutionary tax” when the firm began exporting the fruits.

Amidst negotiations for a compromise amount, Paragu reportedly became impatient and ordered his men to burn two of the packing plants and cut down bananas on seven hectares ready for harvest. The two plants had 40 workers.

One of the burned plants employed Muslims, who had appeared happy for finally having found gainful employment. Now there is tension between the Muslims and the local Ilonggos who they suspect of being supporters or members of the local NPA.

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GATEWAY CLOSED: With that, the family decided to stop operations altogether, laying off a total of 250 workers. Under the circumstances, even the banks hesitated to give it loans to rebuild the damaged facilities.

Directly affected were workers from Barangay Panalum and Upper Mabuhay. These are poor areas that had seen a ray of hope with the entry of Philippine Fresh Fruits in the locality.

Paquibato district is considered a gateway for development since foreign investors are interested in putting up large plantations in the area that would produce banana, palm oil and tuba-tuba (for bio-diesel as alternative motor fuel).

With the harassment of businessmen who cannot pay revolutionary taxes to the rebels, many investors are expected to back out.

It is clear that only the government can salvage a situation like this.

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GROUND SHAKING: It must be becoming clear to former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante that his chances for continued stay in the United States through the reinstatement of his B1-B2 temporary visitor’s visa are becoming dimmer by the day.

He must be feeling the ground shaking under his feet as he sees his motion after motion being denied. He has not been granted asylum, his first reflex option. He has been denied bail for his provisional release.

His bid in a Wisconsin eastern district court to gain release from detention via a writ of habeas corpus has foundered as the big federal officials, including State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, that he sued closed ranks to foil his scattergun moves to gain entry as a matter of right.

Actually Bolante is not being detained against his will. He is being held, if I understand the reports right, because he himself refuses to be released and sent home. Federal authorities are ready to just kick him out of the US, but he would not budge.

His retaining a big, influential and expensive immigration law office has not given him a guarantee that he, an unwanted alien attempting to gain entry and stay without a visa, can successfully challenge the tightened US system.

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LAST OPTION: Bolante’s remaining best option appears to be for him to agree to voluntary departure.

For his own sake and that of his family, he should strive to see well in advance. He may need the legal advice of his lawyers, but ultimately the decision is his alone.

If he is going back, or being sent back, to the Philippines anyway, as I think he is, he might as well plan ahead and bargain for the best conditions for his impending return to Manila.

For one, he should leave the US without a criminal indictment or, worse, a judgment on his head. As far as we have seen from reports emanating from the immigration court handling his case, he is not facing any criminal charge yet.

What is going on is an administrative process, if this non-lawyer’s reading is correct.

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NO NOTICE TO HIM: Bolante’s entering the US, through the Los Angeles airport last July, without a valid US visa was not his fault. His multiple entry visa which he had used in a previous valid entry was cancelled without prior notice to him.

He learned about its cancellation only when confronted with the fact upon his arrival at the port of entry. Fairness dictates that he should not be held criminally liable for that. He had no control over the US procedure of issuing and canceling visas.

By this time, federal investigators must have raked up all his records. Before criminal charges are filed against him, if only to prove that no alien may flout the law, he should cooperate and just leave.

Even his snubbing a hearing of the Senate committee on food and agriculture, which prompted the request for the US embassy to cancel his visa, is not a criminal offense.

I am sure Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., committee chairmen, will not crack down on Bolante if he would just cooperate.

* * *

THREAT TO HIS LIFE: The harassed Bolante should take a deep breath, and prepare to go home voluntarily after negotiating that — since he did not mean any harm — no derogatory information be left on his record that could prejudice any future entry.

His real problem may be that, as he claimed earlier, his life may be in mortal danger if he went back to the Philippines.

The threat to his life, however, does not necessarily come from the Left as he had claimed. He said he was a target of the New People’s Army, which has issued a fairly credible denial of such evil intent.

The threat to his life may come from elsewhere.

To put it simply, crudely, he might just be killed by parties whose interest will be severely harmed by his telling the whole truth about the more than P700 million in fertilizer funds disbursed during the 2004 presidential election campaign.

Some people might want him silenced forever. But that is a risk that all high-stakes players must face sooner or later. Bolante played it big and he must be ready to reap whatever awaits him.

But the beauty of his finally coming home and telling the truth is that Truth will set him free. Suddenly the fertilizer monkey on his back will disappear.

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PROOF OF INCOME: Labor leader and former senator Ernesto Herrera is urging the government to devise an acceptable “proof of personal income” for overseas Filipino workers whose earnings abroad are not reported in the usual income tax returns.

The former secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines suggested that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration produce such an income certificate to serve as basis for loans and other transactions normally requiring an ITR.

He said the document will help overseas workers (who usually do not file ITRs) obtain funding for livelihood projects, micro enterprises and housing loans, and freely engage in other financial transactions back home.

“The lack of an ITR is clearly a practical issue faced by OFWs and their families in relation to their tax-exempt status,” he said. “Many OFWs are even having problems getting housing loans because they are unable to readily prove income or establish their capability to incur any borrowing.”

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MODUS OPERANDI: Herrera may want to consult a prominent senator with a wide-ranging business in housing and real estate who was able to go around the problem of OFWs, among other customers, not having ITRs and such documents.

The modus operandi of some of the senator’s sales people is simple. They manufacture the documents needed by a buyer of a house and lot. Since they will be the ones processing the same documents, no problem arises.

A buyer who has money but no proof of income, such as an ITR, is sometimes made to sign documents showing that he/she is an OFW. That established, they also make the buyer sign a fake ITR showing that he/she has enough income to be able to buy real property.

But at the same time, the buyer is made to sign a power of attorney authorizing one of the senator’s sales people to act on his/her behalf, sign more documents, et cetera, to expedite transactions.

The down payment is made and the papers are processed in the normal manner. At the end, the buyer is given the house and lot of his/her choice, usually mortgaged at high interest to a pre-chosen bank.

Since all the paperwork was made in-house, nobody questions it.

In this operation, the alternative proof of income that Herrera is suggesting is not needed.

If there is a public hearing on the matter, the senator might be a good resource person in his own chamber.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 26, 2006)

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