June 2008

PerryScope
Perry Diaz

The Saga of Joc-Joc Bolante

Seven years ago, Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante never had it so good. He was on top of the world. In my article, “The Joc-Joc Affair is No Joking Matter” (July 28, 2006), I wrote: “He was appointed as Agriculture Undersecretary for Finance and Administration by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001, shortly after she assumed the presidency from deposed president Joseph Estrada. ‘Joc-Joc’ was ‘right’ for the job with his impeccable credentials which included membership and various leadership roles in the Rotary International, the prestigious service organization whose motto is ‘Service Above Self.’ Up to that point in his life, Bolante appears to have done everything right and maintained an unblemished business and professional reputation.”

Four years later, in sudden turn of events, his world turned upside down. As Agriculture Undersecretary, Bolante had administrative and “discretionary” authority over the multi-billion peso fertilizer funds. In June 2004 — following the controversial 2004 re-election of President Arroyo — former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez filed plunder cases against President Arroyo and several Department of Agriculture officials including Bolante for alleged misuse of the fertilizer funds.

In 2005, the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food, and Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon) initiated a series of joint public hearings to investigate the alleged fertilizer scam. Consequently, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism conducted its own investigation and discovered that a large portion of the P728-million fertilizer funds was released to fictitious — or “ghost” — foundations. In December of 2005, the Senate joint committees chaired by Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. issued a report which concluded that the fertilizer funds intended for farmers were diverted by Undersecretary Bolante for the 2004 electoral campaign of President Arroyo. According to the report, collaborative testimonies from Agriculture officials, 13 farmer groups, Commission on Audit officials, the Budget Secretary, and alleged “runners” of Bolante indicated that the “farmers did not get a single farm input or implement” in 2004.

Soon after the report came out, Bolante disappeared and became a fugitive from justice after failing to appear before the Senate joint committees. Senator Magsaysay said that Bolante was subpoenaed four times but his whereabouts were unknown. On July 7, 2006, Bolante was arrested after he tried to enter the United States with a cancelled visa. Unbeknown to Bolante, Senator Magsaysay had previously requested the US Embassy in Manila to cancel his visa. However, instead of refusing him entry into the US, he was detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the Department of Homeland Security.

To avoid deportation, Bolante sought political asylum claiming that he would be persecuted if he returned to the Philippines. On June 25, 2007, an Immigration Judge denied his application for asylum and was ordered deported.

Bolante did not waste any time in filing an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeals. His lawyers made their oral arguments before the court last February 11, 2008. The court is expected to make its decision by July. Meanwhile, he is detained at the Kenosha Detention Center in Wisconsin where he is treated like a common criminal. Should the Court of Appeals uphold the lower court’s decision, Bolante can still exercise his rights to appeal his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. If he succeeds with his appeal, he would then become a permanent resident.

Recently, a leader in the Filipino-American community in the Midwest notified me of a rumor that has been going around. Accordingly, Bolante is pleading poverty and is also trying to be moved out of detention for health reasons, claiming that he is ill. The Fil-Am leader said that they are opposing his release and a letter-writing campaign was started to make the proper authorities aware of what he has done.

Indeed, the “Fertilizer Scam,” of which he was named in the Senate report as the “master architect of the scam,” has recently been mentioned as one of the reasons for the poor production of rice; thus forcing the Philippine government to increase its importation of rice. Today, the Philippines is the top importer of rice. According to the testimony of Chavez, the fertilizer funds were disbursed as follows: 25% to Bolante; 30% to a group of 26 mayors, 49 governors and 103 congressmen; 20% to the supplier of farm inputs; and 25% for Bolante’s “runners.” The biggest chunk for one individual — a whopping P182 million — went to Bolante.

With Bolante’s deportation almost a certainty, his homecoming could jolt the political landscape and destabilize the Arroyo government. It is anticipated that the Senate would reopen the “Fertilizer Scam” investigation and summon Bolante to give his belated testimony. With nowhere to go, Bolante wouldn’t have too many options. The question is: Is he going to sing like a canary and implicate government officials including those in Malacanang? If he would, it could be the mother of all scandals.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

La Gloria’s U.S. Junket

Six months ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went on a three-country European junket with an entourage of 192 which included the entire First Family (nine persons), 34 congressmen and their spouses, and 50 business cronies. By the end of 2007, Arroyo had traveled to 18 countries — one every 20 days! — and spent P588.5 million. In 2006, she traveled to 13 countries and spent P398 million. In 2005, she traveled to four countries and spent P154 million. This year, the cost of her travels continue to rack up millions of taxpayers’ money.

Her forthcoming “working” visit to the United States on June 23 to 29 once again manifests her high-flying addiction to junketing. Arroyo will meet with President George W. Bush at the Oval Office to thank him for “all the help he gave to the Philippines during the eight years of his term.” The two leaders are also going to discuss ways of “strengthening” U.S.-Philippines relations. It seems to me that that is always the reason for a Philippine President to visit the White House. I wonder if Arroyo realized that Bush is now a lame duck President and will be out of office next January. Shouldn’t she wait until John McCain or Barack Obama becomes President? Of course, that would be another opportunity for her to come back next year.

While in the U.S., Arroyo is also going to attend a dinner organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the ASEAN-U.S. Business Council. It will cost Arroyo $8,000 for a table for ten. As to how many of her retinue of politicians, government officials, and their spouses would attend, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them would want to go to the dinner. Of course, Gloria will pick up the tab which will eventually be paid for by poor Juan de la Cruz.

Arroyo’s junkets and her other expenses have cost Juan de la Cruz a lot of money. A recent report by the Commission on Audit (COA) showed that in 2007 Arroyo’s foreign and domestic travels totaled P622.6 million. That’s 239% more than the all the salaries of the employees in the Office of the President which would include all executive offices, agencies, commissions, and committees under her.

In addition, the COA report showed that P618.6 million were disbursed as “donations” to unknown beneficiaries. And add to that another P531.9 million for all types of expenses such as confidential expenses, consultancy expenses, extraordinary expenses, representation expenses and allowances, other personal benefits, year-end bonuses, “cash gifts,” and honoraria. The sum is a whopping P1.8 billion. That’s a lot of moolah — enough to build 36,000 Gawad Kalinga homes.

During the 110th Independence Day last June12, Arroyo cut the cost of the Independence Day program at the Rizal Park to show the people that she’s willing to conserve money at a time of rising food prices. However, on the night of June12, Arroyo hosted a glitzy reception at the Malacanang Palace for the diplomatic corps and the country’s elite.

What is appalling was the ostentatious display of pomp at the Malacanang reception, especially the revival of the elitist dance, the “rigodon de honor.” Arroyo handpicked the 20 couples — the country’s rich and famous or, I might say, the cream of Gloria’s “Enchanted Kingdom” — who participated in the rigodon.

It is interesting to note that the last time the rigodon was performed in Malacanang was on June 30, 1981 during the third inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos. When Cory Aquino ascended to the presidency after Marcos was overthrown in 1987, she prohibited the rigodon from being performed in all official functions, an oblique rejection of a dance considered to be fitting only for the high and mighty ruling elite. After 27 years of not performing this unnecessary display of power and affluence, Gloria revived the rigodon at a time when the people are in dire need and impoverished.

After all the speeches at the June 12th reception had ended, the media people were unceremoniously told to leave. Thus, nobody from the media witnessed the “rigodon de honor” except one — outgoing Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. Bunye disclosed and described the rigodon in detail — including the names of the participants — in his weekly newspaper column. Arroyo should have told him to leave the reception too.

Arroyo’s junkets and high-maintenance lifestyle make a lot of people wonder if she realized that the country is in a state of chaos and decay. Recent polls show that seven out of 10 Filipinos cannot afford to buy food nor pay their electric bills. With the price of rice going up as high as P50 per kilo today, how can a family of five survive on a daily wage of P70? Yet, we have the country’s leader squandering money left and right that could otherwise be used to provide shelter and food for the powerless poor. Is she likened to a modern-day equivalent of Nero who fiddled while Rome was burning?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Betrayal of the Filipino Veterans

Just as the U.S. House of Representatives was about to vote on S.1315 — known as the “Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007,” introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye — a group of Filipino-Americans from San Francisco drove a polarizing wedge that could potentially impede the passage of the bill. Indeed, what was almost a certainty two weeks ago is now in jeopardy.

Sixty-two years after the infamous Rescission Act of 1946 was signed into law denying benefits to more than 200,000 Filipino veterans of World War II, the surviving 18,000 aging veterans came within arm’s length to finally getting the recognition and benefits that they deserved. Last April 24, 2008, S.1315 was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on a 96-1 vote. On May 22, 2008, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the bill. The game plan was to get 290 bipartisan support to ensure passage under “suspension of rules,” which means that a “killer” amendment could be stopped from being introduced on the floor; thus, averting any attempt to remove the benefits for Filipino veterans.

Supposedly, 230 Democrats had already been lined up to vote for the bill. That would then require 60 Republicans to reach a 2/3 supermajority in order to suspend the rules and pass S.1315 without amendments. As of 5:00 pm on May 21, the Office of Congressman Darrell Issa (Republican, Chula Vista, California) released a list of 74 Republican congressmen who were committed to vote for S.1315. That’s 14 more votes needed to suspend the rules and pass the bill.

But on the designated day of the historic floor vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi removed the bill from the calendar. Words went around that the “Blue Dog Caucus” members — consisting of 51 conservative Democrats — were reluctant to support S.1315 because they were worried that their re-election might be jeopardized for “giving money to foreigners.” It was also reported that Speaker Pelosi wanted to confirm individually the 74 Republican supporters on the Issa list. Can’t Pelosi take the word of Issa who had been working diligently for the past several years for the passage of the equity bill? Why didn’t she strike while the iron was hot? Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a group of aging Filipino veterans who trooped to Congress for what they believed would be the culmination of the long and weary battle to regain their benefits suffered a stunning blow right under the dome of the Capitol. They must have felt the same way when the Rescission Act of 1946 depraved more than 200,000 young Filipinos of their benefits… and dignity. The surviving 18,000 fragile old men were hoping each day that they would just live a day longer to see the day when America would finally recognize them for their heroism in defending America during World War II. But, alas, that day remained as elusive as it had been for the past 62 years.

The Filipino veterans must have felt the pang of betrayal once again, this time not only from the representatives of the American people in Congress but from their own people. The Filipino-Americans who claim to be “advocates” for full equity for the Filipino veterans have once again played the only game they have been playing for the past eight years, “All or Nothing.” They would rather see the Filipino veterans get nothing unless it was “full equity.”

The core of the issue was a letter sent by Mr. Regalado Maldonado to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of the floor vote asking her not to support S.1315. Mr. Baldonado sent the letter without the authorization of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) and U.S.-based Filipino veterans organizations. He claimed that he merely signed the letter prepared by leaders of the San Francisco-based organizations, Veterans Equity Center (VEC) and the Students Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE) . Mr. Baldonado’s act was, in my opinion, an abuse of his responsibility as “San Francisco Veteran Affairs Commissioner.” He was appointed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a local agency that has nothing to do with S.1315.

Last May 25, 2008, VEC Chair Atty. Lourdes Tancinco, in an article she posted in FilAm Star, remarked that the National Network for Veterans Equity (NNVE) and VEC “are leading the community in calling and urging the office of Pelosi to stand uncompromisingly behind the Filipino veterans’ clamor for full equity.” It is interesting to note that her “uncompromising stand” for “no equity if not full equity” for the last eight years has yet to deliver a single piece of legislation for the Filipino veterans. This year, the Senate resoundingly passed S.1315. Had the House of Representatives voted and passed S.1315 last May 22, President Bush, as he recently promised, would have signed it into law this month.

On June 3, 2008, Atty. Tancinco wrote another article, “No Veteran Left Behind in Final Battle,” and declared, “As long as there is a veteran alive, the fight for full equity and recognition lives on.” Claiming that the “real issue here is the injustice perpetrated in 1946 and which can be corrected only through the passage of an Equity Bill,” Atty. Tancinco should already know that, at this point in time, “full equity” is a dream lost in the labyrinth of political reality. Atty. Tancinco should have a “reality check” and come to terms with the politics of life. The long battle for full equity in Congress has come down to a “compromise” — the only game in Capitol Hill. The lobbyists and advocates for the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) and the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) knew the “politics of compromise” very well and that was one of the reasons why S.1315 passed the Senate and would have passed the House of Representatives had Speaker Pelosi proceeded with the floor vote.

It’s ironic that those who professed to advocate for “full equity” would, in the end, become the reactionary force that would deny the surviving 18,000 aging warriors the victory that they have been waiting for more than six decades. At the rate the Filipino veterans are dying — 10 per day — there would only be one Filipino veteran left standing in less than five years. At that time, the “All or Nothing” group would realize — albeit too late — that they have missed the noblest act that they could have done for the Filipino veterans: give them back their dignity.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Is History Repeating Itself in China?

In 1402, when Zhu Di became the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, China embarked on an ambitious mission to extend its empire around the world. Zhu Di, who became to be known as Emperor Yong Le (or Yung Lo) — “Perpetually Jubilant” — built an armada of more than 3,500 ships including 250 humongous nine-masted “treasure ships,” each measuring 400 feet long and 150 feet wide. By comparison, Columbus’ Santa Maria only measured 90 feet long and 30 feet wide.

Yong Le divided his armada into several fleets and sent them in different directions around the world in an attempt to control the trade routes which at that time were dominated by the Arabs, Persians, and Indians. The most popular of these fleets was commanded by Admiral Zheng He who led seven expeditions into the Indian Ocean by way of the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca. Beginning in 1405, Zheng He’s expeditions went as far as India, Madagascar, and southward along the east coast of Africa. He returned from his last expedition in 1423.

Yong Le’s goal was to chart the world and enforce China’s “tribute system” among the countries of the world. In other words, Yong le wanted China to become the world’s first superpower. In return for paying tribute to China, China would extend trading privileges and protect its trading partners from their enemies. Through these “bilateral trade agreements,” China would also provide “soft loans”; thus, making its trading partners perpetually indebted to China.

It is interesting to note that China’s tribute system was also extended to several regions in the Philippines including Luzon and the Sultanate of Sulu. In 1405, Yong Le claimed the island of Luzon — they called it “Lusong” from the Chinese characters “Lui Sung” — and placed it under the protection of his empire. The biggest settlement of Chinese was in Lingayen in Pangasinan. Lingayen became the seat of the Chinese colonial government in Luzon. When Yung Lo died in 1424, the Chinese colonial government was dissolved. However, the Chinese settlers — known as “sangleys” — remained and prospered.

On Chinese New Year’s Day, February 2, 1421, a spectacular event — never seen anywhere in the world before — was held in Beijing, the new capital of Yong Le’s empire. More than 28 heads of state and their ambassadors from all over Asia, Africa, Arabia, and the Indian Ocean assembled to pay homage to Emperor Yong Le and to celebrate the inauguration of his empire’s seat of power, the Forbidden City. Indeed, China had finally reached the apex of world primacy. Yong Le was on top of the world.

Three months later, on May 9, 1421, the Forbidden City was struck by a thunderbolt. The newly constructed palace took a direct hit and Yong Le’s throne was razed to the ground and a deadly conflagration followed. Meanwhile, an epidemic of unknown disease that had been raging in southern China for two years spread and killed several hundred thousand people. Yong Le believed that the catastrophe was an omen telling him that the gods were angry at him. He then temporarily handed the throne to his son, Zhu Gaozhi. On August 12, 1424, Yong Le died a broken man. Upon ascension to the throne, Zhu Gaozhi issued a decree stopping all voyages of the treasure ships. All foreign ambassadors were sent home and all Chinese officials who were abroad were ordered to come home.

Zhu Gaozhi ruled for only a year. His son, Zhu Zhanji succeeded him in 1425 and ruled for the next 10 years. After Zhu Zhanji’s death, his successor issued edicts banning all foreign trade and travel. China closed it doors. Piracy and smuggling — criminal offenses punishable by death — were the only means of trade. For more than 100 years, China isolated itself from the outside world. It was during this time that the pirate Limahong ruled the South China Sea.

Today, after more than five centuries of self-isolation, China is once again emerging as a superpower. Its trade with the outside world has taken a new level of intensity and aggressiveness. State-owned Chinese companies have established trade and other commercial activities in every continent. It is predicted that China would be the number one economic power within 20 years; however, some economic experts say five to 10 years.

In August of this year, China will host the Summer Olympics in Beijing. It will be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — events in China since the inauguration of the Forbidden City in 1421. Leaders from countries around the world are expected to attend in what is billed as the most spectacular Olympic Games opening ceremonies in history.

Last May 12, 2008, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit central China killing almost 70,000 people and left more than 15 million homeless. Aftershocks continue to take their toll in human lives and property. Internal politics as well as external conflicts — including the Tibet issue — were placed in the back burner. Right now, the number priority is to deal with the devastation caused by the earthquake.

China’s communist leaders might see the earthquake and the devastation that followed as an ominous sign similar to the thunderbolt and conflagration that occurred in 1421. The Chinese people are very superstitious and I won’t be surprised if China would back track once again in its quest for global economic dominance like it did in 1421. But would they forego the notion that by doing so, their 600-year dream of world primacy would once again fade into oblivion.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)