Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 35      Oct. 8 - 14, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines

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Witnesses to Fertilizer Scam: Killed, Hunted

For testifying against a fund that never reached them, witnesses to the P728-million fertilizer scam reportedly engineered by former Agriculture Undersecretary and now U.S. immigration detainee Jocelyn �Joc-joc� Bolante, are now being chased by suspicious burly men believed to be military and police agents. One of them, a 61-year old woman, has been silenced to death.

BY DABET CASTA�EDA
Bulatlat

Farmer witnesses to the P728-million fertilizer scam that had allegedly been used to fund the presidential campaign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the May 2004 elections are being hunted down by men believed to be military and police forces.

One of them, Ofelia Rodriguez, was killed early this year. Two others, Paul Simbulan and Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Movement of Peasants in the Philippines), claim to have been tailed over the past few months.

Presented as evidence in two impeachment complaints against President Macapagal-Arroyo filed in 2005 and this year, the fertilizer scam has led to the detention by U.S. immigration authorities of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn �Joc-joc� Bolante. Bolante is being sought by the Philippine Senate which is investigating the scam.

The free fertilizer was purportedly released to farmers February 2004 or three months before the presidential race.

Rodriguez, a 61-year farmer from Barangay Divisoria, Mexico town, Pampanga was shot in the head by a lone gunman who entered her family home just after dinner on Jan. 16. The old woman died on the spot in front of her grandchildren and her 95-year old ailing mother, a report from the human rights watchdog Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People�s Rights) said.

�Marked� after TV appearance

A source, who asked anonymity for security reasons, told Bulatlat that Rodriguez�s family already knew the military had �marked� their Nanay Perla after she appeared on ABS-CBN�s TV public affairs show The Probe Team. The show�s first telecast on Aug. 25, 2005 featured farmers who testified that they did not receive fertilizer from the supposed fertilizer fund released by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Joseph Canlas, chair of the Central Luzon regional peasant alliance Alyansa ng mga Magbbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL or Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), said in a previous interview that Rodriguez had spearheaded the campaign against the fertilizer scam in her village. She was the most vocal in demanding that Bolante be made responsible for the scam, Canlas said. 

Karapatan says it has written testimonies by Rodriguez about alleged military harassment before she was killed. The testimonies revealed she had been invited to go to the Army detachment in their village for �questioning� on Oct. 25 last year. During interrogation, 2Lt. John Paul Nicolas of the 69th Infantry Battalion (IB) stationed in Barangay Divisoria, pressured Rodriguez to admit she was a top-ranking leader of the New People�s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Karapatan also recorded that an unidentified neighbor had approached Rodriguez to warn her that the said neighbor had been ordered by Nicolas to kill her. The neighbor refused the order, the rights group said.

The murder of Rodriguez remains unsolved.

Simbulan

Another fertilizer scam witness, Paul Simbulan, said he had been tailed by men believed to be military elements after he was interviewed by broadcast journalist Maki Pulido on GMA-7�s public affairs program �Imbestigador.�

Nung ininterview ako ng Channel 7 wala akong kamali-malisya, nagsabi lang ako ng totoo� (When I was interviewed by Channel 7, I had no malicious intent I was only telling the truth), he said in an exclusive interview with Bulatlat this week. �Nakasama pa sa akin ang magsabi ng totoo� (Telling the truth only brought harm to me), he said.

In the TV interview, Simbulan said he did not receive any fertilizer supposed to have been distributed to farmers for free and was taken from the controversial P728 million fertilizer fund.

A week after his TV appearance, Simbulan said, unidentified motorcycle-riding men began frequenting his house in Porac, Pampanga. Although the situation sent shivers to him and his family, Simbulan said he stayed at home and tended his farm, �para may kainin kami� (so my family could eat).

He said he even joined a campaign against a demolition plan by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP) that destroyed their farms.

Simbulan felt the situation was becoming untenable when the unidentified men believed to be military agents stayed in front of their house from midnight till early morning. Sometimes, he said, the men would ask neighbors if he was around.

Sensing danger and knowledgeable about the experiences of victims of extra-judicial killings in Central Luzon, Simbulan decided to leave his home, his farm and his family sometime in July. He left for an undisclosed place and has not gone home since. He said his family had also gone into hiding.

While life for Simbulan and his family was that of the farmers� common hand-to-mouth existence, it had never occurred to him that he would become a marked man now that he is a year away from retirement.

A farmer since the age of 16, Paul Simbulan lived a simple life in the municipality of Porac (92 kms north of Manila). At that tender age he had worked in his family�s two-hectare rice farm in the province until their quiet life was disrupted by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo volcano in 1991. The eruption buried parts of Porac including Simbulan�s home and farm.

Two years later, Simbulan joined some 200 farmers who cleared parts of Clark Airbase which was carpeted with lahar or mudflows unleashed by Mt. Pinatubo. (The airbase, the largest U.S. air facility in the Far East, had been abandoned by the U.S. in 1992 following the Philippine Senate�s rejection of a bases renewal treaty.) The farmers, including Simbulan, were acknowledged as tenants of a 1,000-ha farm there. 

Senate witness

Ramos, as the principal witness of the Senate inquiry on the fertilizer scam, has also been a primary target of political persecution. In an interview, he said police and military elements have been hounding him since March.

Pinatay na nila si Nanay Perla. Ngayon, ako naman ang gusto nilang patahimikin� (They�ve killed Nanay Perla, now they also want me silenced), the KMP leader said.

Ramos said he has not returned home since Feb. 26, a day after Macapagal-Arroyo declared Presidential Proclamation 1017 placing the nation in a state of emergency.

Even while away from home, family and neighbors said several unidentified men have been looking for him in their village in Malolos, the city capital of the province of Bulacan (44 kms north of Manila).

One of the men who have been hunting him down is a policeman whom former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Arturo Lomibao acknowledged as an agent of the Central Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

Ramos said KMP, which has the biggest number of farmer-members with 65 provincial chapters in 15 regions nationwide, has demanded for Bolante�s immediate repatriation to the Philippines. �Dapat syang humarap sa imbestigasyon at panagutin sa kanyang pagmamaniobra ng pondo para sa mga magsasaka� he said. (He should face the investigation and account for the fund scam.)

Bolante is charged as the �architect� and �brains� behind the scam in Senate Resolution No. 327, filed by the Committee on Agriculture and Food and the Blue Ribbon Committee on March 1, 2006.

The Senate report read: �It was he (Bolante) who worked with the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) for the immediate release of the fund. It was him who prepared and submitted names who would become the fertilizer fund�s proponents. It was Undersecretary Bolante who sent letters to various congressmen and local officials informing them of the availability of funds under the DA�s GMA (Ginintuang Masaganang Ani) Project. It was him who directed these officials to coordinate with his office to discuss all the requirements to facilitate the said project fund.� 

Ramos told the Senate committee inquiry that the fertilizer funds were most probably used for the presidential campaign of Macapagal-Arroyo as it was released just three months before the elections. The release of the fund may have been �a perfect time� for the elections, he said, but it was definitely �untimely� for the farmers. February is a harvest month and there is no need for fertilizers until November when planting begins.

Ramos arrived last week from Geneva where he, along with Karapatan and a few others, filed human rights complaints against Macapagal-Arroyo and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jovito Palparan with the United Nations Human Rights Council. Bulatlat

 

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