JOCELYN ‘JocJoc’ Bolante, the former agriculture undersecretary implicated in the diversion of P728 million in Department of Agriculture funds for the 2004 election campaign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was arrested and being detained by United States immigration authorities after he arrived in Los Angeles last July 7 using a cancelled business visa.
Bolante has been out of the country since late last year, departing for the US on December 11 in what was seen as an attempt to evade investigation by the Senate in connection with the disbursement of millions in fertilizer funds to mayors, governors and congressmen, 95 percent of whom are known Arroyo political allies. The funds were released a week before the start of the campaign period for the May 2004 presidential elections. Another P1.1 billion was released a day after.
Despite repeated subpoenas for him to testify, Bolante snubbed the hearings conducted by the Senate, claiming that he had to be away to deal with his functions as director of Rotary International. The Senate subsequently cited him for contempt and issued a warrant for his arrest.
At one point, some of his fellow Rotary Club officers and members were so aghast at his refusal to face the music and even wrote open letters to urge him to come out and tell the truth behind the fertilizer funds scam, but to no avail.
A close friend of First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and his fellow Makati Rotarian, he was named DA undersecretary for finance and administration shortly after Arroyo took over the presidency from the ousted Joseph Estrada in 2001.
In a 41-page report on their joint investigation, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Committee on Agriculture and Food recommended that Bolante, a close confidante of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, along with other top DA officials — former secretary Luis Lorenzo, former undersecretary Ibarra Poliquit (now vice president of the Government Service Insurance System), Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales, and Assistant Secretary Jose Felix Montes — be charged with plunder for their roles in the fertilizer funds scam.
The committees also recommended the filing of charges against all the DA’s regional directors who participated in the illegal transactions of the P728-million fertilizer fund scam. At the same time, they held Arroyo accountable for the mismanagement of the said fund after testimonies showed that it “was indeed used to assure her victory in the 2004 elections.”
“To this date, no effort on her part has been made, no categorical denial was even heard but all allegations and testimonies point to her benefiting the most in an intricate scheme of deception and fraud,” the report said.
The PCIJ also reported last year that the DA released nearly P3 billion during the 2004 campaign supposedly meant for fertilizer and other farm implements for the country’s farmersunder the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) program, but which was diverted to non-government organizations, obscure private foundations and companies that were identified as beneficiaries by the proponent congressmen, governors and mayors.
In filing plunder charges against Arroyo for alleging using the fertilizer fundd for election purposes, former solicitor general Frank Chavez likewise pointed to Bolante as the architect of an intricate modus operandi that provided a fund sharing scheme of 25 percent for the local government proponents, 25 percent for “runners,” 30 percent for politicians, and 20 percent for suppliers.
A month after the release of the Senate report, the Commission on Audit also came out with its final report on the funds scam. While confining itself to procedural examination of the disbursement, liquidation and auditing of the P728-million fertilizer funds, the government auditing agency found that it was Bolante who decided on the list of fertilizer fund recipients: 103 congressmen, 49 governors and 26 mayors.
The COA report also listed several NGOs and political organizations as recipients or conduits of the fund. However, it omitted the fact that some of these groups had direct links to public officials — which, a COA source said, was the “smoking gun” that could have shed light on how the fund was distributed and used.
Of the system the DA used to “download” the funds to LGUs and NGOs and then to suppliers, the COA said:
“(It) went (through) a circuitous route thus resulting in fragmented accountability. In addition, there was a weak monitoring of liquidation and accomplishment reports. Consequently, the fund could not be fully accounted for, not to mention specific instances of irregularities found in the course of the audit.”