By: Roy Bersales
THREE top officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and several employees during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were exonerated by the Sandiganbayan despite Senate’s discovery of supposed huge evidence to prove their guilt on the P723 Million fertilizer scam a decade ago.
The Sandiganbayan’s Special Second Division said the plunder charges filed against then Agriculture Secretary Luis “CHito” Lorenzo Jr., former Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, and former Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, and Leonicia Marco-Llarena by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2011 about the multi-million funds for fertilizer have no sufficient pieces of evidence to conclude that they benefited from the scam so that they should be declared plunderers.
Several days ago, the Sandiganbayan also cleared Mrs. Arroyo on the same P723 Million fertilizer scam due to the absence of probable cause to proceed with the trial of the plunder case.
A decade ago, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the active investigators during Senate hearing on the P723 Million fertilizer scam, said the Arroyo administration used the funds to get votes from the farmers.
In a decision made on November 28, but released to the public on December 12, the court’s Second Division emphasized that “After a judicious review of the records, we find, as the justices who formerly composed the Second Division did, that there is no probable cause to hold the accused for trial for the crime of plunder.”
It said that it even gave the Office of the Ombudsman a chance in 2014 to prove that it has a strong case against the DA officials and employees.
Specifically, the court ordered prosecutors to submit additional evidence to prove guilt of the supposed plunderers and their cohorts because the Sandiganbayan justices “cannot close its eyes to the glaring badges of fraud and irregularity in the release and utilization of the P723 million fertilizer funds.”
But in 2015, the Ombudsman’s prosecutors instead asked the Sandganbayan to amend the Information (charge sheet) in 2015 to make Jose Barredo Jr. a key witness instead of being one of the respondents.
The prosecutors strongly argued that Barredo’s testimony “would be vital and indispensable for the prosecution of the instant case.”
In a resolution issued in July last year, the Sandiganbayan granted the prosecutors’ plea and admitted the amended information that made Barredo as a government witness.
The Ombudsman’s Office did not add pieces of evidence to strengthen the government’s case on then Pres. Arroyo’s men.
However, the Sandiganbayan made it clear that any determination of probable cause of plunder charges would have to be based on the amended charge sheet.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division stressed that there was no probable cause to proceed with the trial.
“The central key player in this case is none other than Bolante. However, no material participation, other than the release of the funds, could be shown to be attributable to accused Bolante,” the court said.
“Just like the previous finding of this court in the original Information that there is no probable cause to hold the accused liable for the crime of plunder, we reiterate that even the amended Information and the judicial affidavit of Barredo did not suffice to find the existence of probable cause against any of the accused for the crime of plunder,” it added.
The ruling was signed by Associate Justice Samuel Martires, who leads the court’s Second Division, and Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Geraldine Faith Econg.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said her office will study the anti-graft court’s decision before filing motion for recommendation (MR).
Morales told the media that the Office of the Ombudsman will not give up the case and it will even fight it out in the Supreme Court to prove that they have a strong and tight case.