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 CASTAÑEDA
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
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
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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
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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© 2006 Bulatlat
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