MANILA, Philippines – Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, the former Agriculture undersecretary linked to the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, arrived in the country Tuesday night with a promise to answer the allegations hurled against him “in the proper forum.”
Bolante arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) onboard Northwest Airlines flight 071 at around 10:32 p.m. He spent two years in the United States where he fled in 2006 to escape a Senate inquiry.
In her report on GMA’s Saksi, Sandra Aguinaldo said Bolante was on a wheelchair and looked haggard with noticeably more graying hairs. He was reportedly wearing a dark-colored jacket and maong pants, and was seen repeatedly massaging his chest.
Bolante was rushed to the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City shortly after his arrival.
Bolante was the alleged brains behind the fertilizer fund mess, where funds intended for poor farmers were allegedly diverted to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s campaign kitty in the 2004 presidential elections. (See timeline)
The fertilizer scam was one of the biggest controversies that rocked the Arroyo administration.
Senate President Manuel Villar on Monday ordered Senate sergeant-at-arms Jose Balajadia to implement the warrant of arrest on Bolante.
He was referring to the arrest warrant issued by the Senate in December 2005 due to Bolante’s failure to attend the public hearings of the Senate committees on agriculture and food, and accountability of public officers and investigations (Blue Ribbon) on the fertlizer fund scam.
In a statement released through his lawyer, Antonio Zulueta, Bolante promised to answer the allegations linking him to the fertilizer fund scam, but only in the proper forum and only after undergoing medical treatment.
“Now that I am back I shall assure you I will answer any and all accusations at the proper forum,” Bolante said in the statement.
Bolante also said he had wanted to remain quiet, but realized that his silence only attracted more speculation.
“The more I remain silent, the more vicious the accusations have become,” he said.
Bolante said he fled the country and sought asylum in the US for fear of his life after the Senate slapped him with a warrant of arrest.
“This confirmed my belief that forces from many fronts were out to get me, either in prison or six feet under the ground,” he said.
However, he also said that while he is willing to face the charges against him, his immediate plan is to seek treatment for his “mental and physical stress.”
Balajadia said that Bolante has been effectively placed under the custody of the Senate and that he had ordered his staff to guard Bolante while inside St. Luke’s.
“Ang tao ko na rin nag-decide na dalhin sa hospital (It was my men who decided to have him brought to a hospital) … Officially, even now, he is under custody of the Senate,” he said.
“Bolante is now officially under the custody of the Senate. I don’t want the Senate to be blamed for whatever will happen to him,” Balajadia added.
As this developed, militant organizations led by Bayan and Bayan Muna staged a rally outside the NAIA. They want Bolante – and President Arroyo – arrested for their involvement in the fertilizer fund scam.
“Joc-Joc at Gloria, magnanakaw, arestuhin, pagbayarin (Joc-Joc and Gloria are crooks; they must be arrested and punished),” the groups chanted.