Capiz LP rift traced to Bolante
By Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Felipe V. Celino
Philippine Daily Inquirer
ROXAS CITY—Vice presidential candidate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II may be a consistent survey leader, but he faces a big fight right in his home province of Capiz.
The once monolithic and fiercely loyal Liberal Party (LP) machinery in Capiz has split—unprecedented in the province’s political history—and stalwarts are leading a breakaway to coalesce with Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante, the purported engineer of the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Bolante, the cofounder and vice chair of the Ugyon Kita Capiz (UKC), is challenging reelectionist Gov. Victor Tanco, the LP provincial chair. Other key leaders and allies of Roxas, including Vice Gov. Felipe Barredo and Rep. Fredenil Castro, now UKC chair, are also running or backing candidates against LP members.
Despite persistent allegations on his role in the fertilizer fund scam, which involved the alleged misuse of agriculture funds to back the presidential campaign of President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004, Bolante enjoys the support of 12 of Capiz’s 17 mayors, including Vicente Bermejo of the pivotal Roxas City, who was with the Roxas camp for 25 years.
Bolante, 59, gained prominence as a businessman and agriculture undersecretary. But when he entered Capiz’s political arena, he was accused of using his wealth to draw the local leaders and bankrolling the opposition against the Roxas camp.
But his friends vouch for his integrity.
A native of Dao, one of the smaller towns among Capiz’s 16 municipalities and one city, Bolante showed leadership and public relations skills during his student days.
He finished high school at Saint Pius X Seminary in Roxas City and obtained a bachelor’s degree in commerce at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City. He was president of the university’s student council.
According to his friend, lawyer and UKC secretary general Henry Reyes, Bolante was already a multibillionaire before he joined the government. He rose from the ranks at Loyola Plans Inc. and, in 1978, cofounded the preneed company Prudentialife Group.
He became president of Prudential Life Plan and director of 14 other companies until his appointment as agriculture undersecretary.
Bolante also joined the Rotary Club, and became a director of Rotary International.
It was there that he met and became close to President Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. This relationship is widely seen as the key to his entry into the government and to the corridors of power.
“He had lots of social contacts because of his excellence in public relations,” lawyer Hector Teodosio, who was also a student leader at the University of San Agustin, said of Bolante.
He knew the right persons to befriend, said Teodosio, who had questioned Bolante’s selection as one the 100 Outstanding Augustinians of the Century in 2004 because of his supposed involvement in the fertilizer fund scam.
To Roxas and other party leaders in Capiz, Bolante is one of the major reasons for the LP’s breakup.
“Everybody knows he has enough money to fund an election campaign, and they saw in him somebody who can help them financially. They formed the UKC with Bolante to [go against] the LP,” Governor Tanco said.
Tanco said the Arroyo administration was pushing Bolante’s candidacy because it wanted someone to challenge Roxas in his home province.
But former allies of Roxas who are now with Bolante denied this.
UKC chair Castro said Bolante’s joining the party was “only incidental.”
Said Bermejo: “Everything just fell into place. [Bolante] came in at the right time for him and for us. But we never conspired to [challenge] contest the Roxases.”
Style of leadership
Elections in Capiz, especially after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, have been traditionally determined by who the Roxases are backing.
The split in the Roxas camp actually became imminent before the 2007 elections, when tension arose between Bermejo, the then outgoing governor, and Antonio del Rosario, the then city mayor.
Bermejo spoke of a long-simmering resentment among party members on Roxas’ style of leadership, especially in settling disputes.
“Mar failed to lead us. He should have settled the dispute because we belong to one party,” Bermejo said.
Mayors in the second district, who are mostly loyal to Castro, also complained that Roxas was not giving enough attention to the district in terms of projects and other support, according to Bermejo.
But Tanco disputed the charges, saying that Bermejo and other LP members broke away simply because the party did not grant their personal ambitions.
“They forgot that it was the party which made them, and that they would not be where they are now without the Roxases’ support,” he said.
Tanco said Roxas had never allowed a “free zone” in Capiz because he expected his followers to settle disputes and enter into compromise for the party’s sake.
“Mar is not the kind of guy who will plead with his followers to settle disputes. He would rather support a particular candidate, win or lose, instead of allowing his supporters to slug it out. This is how he develops loyalty among us,” Tanco said.
Pro and con
The Roxas camp has focused its attacks on the UKC, putting up streamers citing Bolante’s alleged role in the fertilizer fund scam.
But Bolante’s allies have come to his defense.
“Who are we to judge Joc-joc? He has never been convicted by a competent court. It’s only the media that have judged him,” Castro said.
On claims that Bolante was bankrolling the UKC campaign, Castro said the party funds had come from the candidates’ contributions.
The voters appear to be divided.
“We won’t vote for [Bolante]. He has brought nothing but shame to Capiz and [his allies have] benefited from the fertilizer fund,” said Gilda, a vendor in Roxas City.
But Rhea de la Cruz, a resident of Maayon town, said she believed Bolante’s business expertise and experience would help in the province’s development: “Joc-joc is the only candidate who has a sound vision for Capiz.”
Bolante has largely avoided the media, claiming that he had been busy with his campaign. He has even appointed someone to speak for him.
But in a brief interview, he said he was not running to challenge the Roxas family.
“The Roxases are immaterial as far as I’m concerned because they are not running for office in Capiz … I am running to serve the people,” he said. “I have retired from active business. It’s about time I paid my home province back with whatever God has blessed me.”
Asked where his campaign money was coming from, Bolante said he had a number of supporters, including friends and relatives. “We are surprised by the help coming from a lot of people, sectors and businessmen. It’s a very good sign …” he said.
Tanco said he did not think Bolante would win, adding that the mayors’ support was not a guarantee of victory.
Roxas has vowed to work for the defeat of Bolante and his former allies, even if it would mean borrowing the inheritance of his elder sister, Ria Roxas-Ojeda.
“I’m not threatened by the presence of a thief in [Capiz] politics because I know the people are behind us,” Roxas said in an earlier press conference in the province.
The frequent visits to Capiz of Judy Araneta-Roxas, the matriarch of the clan and of the LP, indicate the intensity of the campaign.
Speaking out for the LP candidates in various towns and barangays, she was quoted as telling the voters of Capiz that the local election was between her family and those who had broken away from the party.
Her campaign will be tested on May 10, when many Capiceños hope that their favorite son will make history by bagging the vice presidency 64 years after his grandfather, for whom he was named, became president.
But many also see the elections as a test of the people’s trust in and loyalty to the Roxas clan.