Wednesday, March 07, 2007

FROM THE BARREL OF MY PEN
By Gonzalo “Jun” Policarpio

FILIPINO REFUGEES, ANYONE?

According to a report issued a few days ago by Prof. Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines, the U.S. Immigration Judge denied the asylum application of Jocelyn “Joc Joc” Bolante, former Arroyo government official who was arrested by U.S. Immigration officers last year for making an illegal entry at the Los Angeles airport. Well, it's good news to the Philippine Senate who has still an outstanding warrant of arrest for the fugitive from justice. But it's bad news to the Arroyo administration that tried so hard to get the “fall guy” a safe haven in America.

he Philippine Senate subpoenaed Bolante to appear before an inquiry into charges that he plundered billions of pesos appropriated for the Filipino farmers when he was a top official of the Philippine department of agriculture. He was specifically accused of misappropriating the people's money to go to the campaign fund of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the 2004 presidential elections. Instead of appearing before a Senate Committee hearing in 2005, he disappeared into thin air with the help of a Philippine passport with a stamped U.S. Visa. When the U.S. Embassy cancelled his visa upon learning that he is a fugitive from justice, he got caught at an inspection booth of the Los Angeles port of entry.

If confirmed that Bolante failed to get asylum in the United States, then it can be said that his extra-expensive immigration lawyers failed to convince the immigration judge that Bolante has credible fear of political persecution in the Philippines. Though he has credible fear of criminal prosecution, it's not a statutory ground to give him the status of a refugee. In fact, he has the status of a fugitive from justice.

If Bolante were a Filipino journalist whose articles and commentaries are critical of the Arroyo administration like Marlene Garcia-Esperat who was killed by unknown gunmen, he could have won an asylum case in the United States.

The Philippines has been tagged as second only to Iraq as the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005 by two international media watchdogs, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist(CPJ) and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders(RSF). Just recently, the Philippine government's “security forces” were recently cited in the U.S. State Department 2006 Country Report on Human Rights Practices as the perpetrators of “abuses against civilians through killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

U.S. Immigration judges normally refer to the State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices before ruling on an asylum application. Given the increasing number of “extra-judicial killings” of journalists and militant political leaders in the Philippines, I would not be surprised to hear of a possible swamp of asylum applications or even refugee applications being filed by those targeted groups of hapless Filipinos.
End
junpolicarpio@yahoo.com
junpolicarpio@gmail.com

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