Bolante faces contempt for evasive answers

By Aries C. Rufo,

Posted at Nov 25 2008 05:29 PM | Updated as of Nov 26 2008 01:29 AM

Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante is facing contempt and possible detention in the Senate for his “seeming evasiveness” in answering queries on the misuse of the P728-million fertilizer fund.

Blue Ribbon chair Senator Richard Gordon, before suspending today’s hearing, said the committee “will deliberate” whether to cite Bolante in contempt “so he could be confined in Senate premises.” He noted that “a lot of senators were not happy about his seeming evasiveness” in responding to questions on his bank accounts, how he managed the fertilizer fund and his trips abroad.

The motion to cite Bolante in contempt was sought by Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier this day after he interrogated the former agriculture official on who had visited him while he was confined at the St. Luke’s Hospital. Lacson noted that a number of lawyers went to visit Bolante supposedly “to rehearse” his statements before the Senate.

Bolante obliged, but this did not prevent Lacson from asking the committee to put Bolante in contempt for his supposed evasiveness.

Bolante had earlier hedged from directly answering questions on his bank accounts but later was compelled to provide details. The Senate is sending subpoena to officers of three banks where Bolante said he maintains active accounts.

Pinned down

In today’s hearing, Bolante was pinned down by a former subordinate for having a direct hand in the use and implementation of the P728-million fertilizer fund.

Former regional director for Western Visayas Ricardo Oblena told the committee that he got instructions from Bolante on where to course the money. This was in contrast to Bolante’s earlier claim that he only facilitated the release of the funds.

“He called me up,” Oblena finally said, after some prodding by Gordon. When Gordon asked who set the terms on the fertilizer fund, Oblena said: “No other than our undersecretary.”

Oblena confirmed that there was a change in the terms of agreement with the local government of Kalibo (Aklan) to accommodate the non-government organization Agricultural Enhancement and Productivity Inc, which was supposedly favored by Bolante.

This drew a quick denial from Bolante, saying he gave no instructions to favor any group. He challenged Oblena to prove that he gave him orders, saying “ I never talked to him over the phone.” Oblena said he got the instruction through a phone call, prompting Gordon to summon records of the telephone calls.

Hearing resumes this Friday.