Sandiganbayan clears Leyte congressman Cari in fertilizer fund scam

Lian Buan
Sandiganbayan clears Leyte congressman Cari in fertilizer fund scam
Also cleared of charges is Representative Jose Carlos Cari's mother, Baybay City Mayor Carmen Cari

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court has dismissed graft and malversation cases over the fertilizer fund scam against the mother-and-son tandem of Carmen and Jose Carlos Cari of Leyte due to inordinate delay.

Jose Carlos is the current representative of the 5th district of Leyte, while his mother Carmen is the mayor of Baybay City, Leyte. When the supposed crimes happened in 2004, Carmen was in Congress and Jose Carlos was mayor.

In a resolution promulgated on January 8 and released to the media on Tuesday, January 30, the Sandiganbayan Second Division granted the Caris’ motion to dismiss, siding with their argument that the 11-year investigation period violated their rights as accused.

Also cleared are Evelinda Oppus, the city accountant at the time, and Paquita Austero, the city treasurer at the time.

The 4 were charged in August 2017 for two counts each of graft and malversation for multiple irregularities in the procurement of P3.12 million worth of liquid fertilizer. The Office of the Ombudsman said that the two tranches of procurement did not go through public bidding, and that the funds were paid to an unqualified supplier.

Local agriculture executive Leo Cañeda and Marilyn Castillo, and Mary Jane Fabian of the supplier Castle Rock Construction remain in the charges.

The charge sheets for malversation also accuse them of misappropriating the money for “personal use and benefit.”

But those accusations won’t go to trial now that the Sandiganbayan has dismissed the cases.

Inordinate delay

The transactions happened in 2004. In February 2006, then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez created a task force to investigate the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

After 6 years or in November 2012, the Ombudsman’s field investigation office or FIO filed a complaint. Only after another 4 years and 10 months, or in August 2017, did the Ombudsman file the charges with the Sandiganbayan.

Ombudsman prosecutors reasoned out that because they were investigating the cases as part of an overall P728-million worth scam, it “required gargantuan hard work, diligence, and thoroughness.”

This defense has always been the Ombudsman’s defense when they are hit with the inordinate delay argument.

“The Office of the Ombudsman failed to provide reasonable grounds to justify the delay in the conduct of preliminary investigation that lasted for about 4 years and 10 months,” said the resolution penned by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with concurrences from Associate Justices Oscar Herrera and Michael Frederick Musngi.

Sandiganbayan has dismissed other fertilizer fund scam cases due to inordinate delay.

The Office of the Ombudsman has a pending appeal before the Supreme Court asking for a review of the delay doctrine, and if possible, to strike it out altogether.

Also pending before the Supreme Court is the Ombudsman’s appeal in the dismissal of cases against the scam’s main personality, former Department of Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.