Former Senator Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr. has challenged his former colleagues in the Senate to pursue the arrest of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn 'Jocjoc' Bolante so he can shed light on the misuse of the P728 million fertilizer fund for President Arroyo's election campaign in 2004.
“I would like the remaining senators who signed the report to insist that Mr. Bolante be brought to the Senate for questioning. It is their moral duty,” the former senator told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in a phone interview.
Magsaysay headed the Senate committee in the 13th Congress which recommended the filing of plunder charges against Bolante and other officials for their role in the diversion of the fertilizer funds to political allies of Arroyo in the lower house and other local posts in 2004.
He called on the still incumbent senators, who co-signed the Senate committee report on the fertilizer fund scam, to make those responsible account for their alleged crimes.
In 2006, the Senate issued a warrant of arrest against Bolante for snubbing the hearings of the Blue Ribbon committee and the committee on Agriculture and Food on the P728-million fertilizer scam.
Bolante then left the country but was later arrested by the U.S. authorities in 2006 for using a canceled visa. He fought his deportation from the US by claiming there were threats on his life.
Grand agricultural theft
In the report of the Senate, the committees recommended the filing of plunder charges against Bolante. They described the anomaly as a “grand agricultural theft.”
“I’m sure the Senate will see its way through. I believe in the leadership of the Senate, especially those who signed the report,” he added.
Magsaysay related how the senators worked hard in investigating the fertilizer scam.
“This took six hearings or over 40 hours. We spent another 60 hours to come up with the committee report. We had a dozen lawyers and accountants,” he said.
Seventeen of 23 senators in the 13th Congress signed the committee report.
Thirteen of the 23 senators remain in office. They are: Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., and Senators Joker Arroyo, Rodolfo Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Edgardo Angara, Jinggoy Estrada, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Jamby Madrigal, Francis Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ramon Revilla Jr.. Enrile and Revilla signed but had "reservations.”
The senators who did not sign the report were: Richard Gordon, Alfredo Lim, Ralph Recto, and Mar Roxas. All of them ran under the President Arroyo’s ticket in 2004.
Arrest warrant questioned
Bolante is scheduled to come back to the Philippines on Tuesday. The way it appears, it is only the Senate, through the arrest warrant it issued in 2006, which has the power to make him explain the fertilizer scam.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said they cannot arrest Bolante because no criminal case has been filed against him. The Office of the Ombudsman, which is in charge of prosecuting government officials, is still investigating the case.
But even the validity of the arrest warrant issued by the Senate in 2006 is now in question.
There are two schools of thought on this. One, the validity of the Senate's arrest warrant has expired because it was issued during the previous congress. This is the ground used by Bolante in his petition asking the Supreme Court to nullify the arrest order.
The other school of thought is that the arrest warrant is still valid because the Senate is a continuing body. The Senate rules committee will have to clarify this legal issue.
Senate President Manuel Villar, one of the senators who signed the committee report against Bolante, said Friday that he is standing by the report and he is willing to call the senators to a caucus so they can get a consensus on the resumption of hearings.
“The Senate is standing by its committee report of March 2006, which recommends, among others, the filing of administrative cases against Bolante and the Department of Agriculture officials involved in this controversy,” he said.
“His return to the Philippines is a significant development in the pursuit of truth on the multi-million fertilizer fund scam,” he added.