MANILA, Philippines – A decade after he entered into a contract as Pampanga governor to purchase fertilizers that were overpriced by 1,000%, Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid has been indicted for graft by the Ombudsman.
In a statement on Friday, August 1, the Office of the Ombudsman said it had found probable cause to file graft charges against Lapid and two Pampanga officials: provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon and provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut.
They will be charged for violation of Section 3 (e) in relation to Section 3(g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the “fertilizer fund scam,” one of the biggest corruption scandals in the Arroyo administration.
Also indicted were incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corporation and DA Vazquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources, the companies with which the Pampanga provincial government entered into an allegedly anomalous contract. They Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino (of MPTC) and Dexter Alexander Vasquez (of DA Vazquez).
According to records, the Pampanga provincial board authorized Lapid on March 18, 2004, to enter into an agreement with the agriculture department for the implementation of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Program.
It was less than 4 months into the end of his term, and was covered by the election ban. Lapid was to run – and win – as senator two months after that.
By March 29, Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante issued a memorandum requesting the release of P5 milion to cover the agreement. The following day, the department authorized the Landbank of the Philippines to transfer the amount to its regional field unit in Central Luzon.
On May 12, the local government of Pampanga received a price quotation from DA Vazquez for its macro-micro foliar fertilizer at P1,250.00 per liter/bottle. It also offered training and technical assistance for the use of those fertilizers.
On May 21, Lapid issued a purchase request for 3,880 bottles of fertilizer at the price quoted by the supplier. The governor also issued a certification that “there was no suitable fertilizer substitute with the same quality” and that the mode of procurement would be direct purchase from its exclusive distributor, MPTC.
The Ombudsman’s resolution noted that “the macro-micro foliar fertilizer is 1,000% higher than the other fertilizers of the same kind.”
Lapid, Yabut, and Yuzon also clearly favored DA Vazquez and MPTC, given the “inordinate speed by which the transaction was consummated” – a mere 12 days.
For not conducting a public bidding, Lapid, Yuzon, and Yabut committed several violations of procurement rules when “they entered into a transaction that [was] grossly and manifestly disadvantageous” to government, said the Special Panel for the Fertilizer Fund Scam.
The government paid P4.76 million for the fertilizers, without ensuring that the government benefits from the best products available at the best price, probers said.
Lapid, Yabut, and Yuzon conspired with Vasquez, Aquino, and Abubakar, said the investigators, and disregarded Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and its implementing rules and regulations.
“If the Provincial government of Pampanga undertook the purchase through public bidding, it could have purchased a fertilizer of equal or better quality than Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer at a lesser or competitive cost, thus allowing the Province of Pampanga to secure the best commercially available fertilizer product at the lowest price possible,” the resolution to indict them read.
The Ombudsman dismissed the criminal complaints against Lulu Alingcastre, Leonardo Mendoza, Ramir Flores, Ismael Abubakar Jr, Alberto Aquino, Arthur Aquino, Paul Albert Aguino, Marites Sto Domingo, Rolando Dorado, and Ade Nasuiton for lack of probable cause. By reason of his death, the complaint against Benalfre Galang was also dismissed.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales also ordered the dismissal from the service of Pampanga provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon.
She reminded them that “as officials tasked to enforce local taxation and fiscal matters within their local government unit, it is but expected for the Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Accountant to be abreast and knowledgeable to recent developments in fiscal administration, ie RA 9184 (Procurement Law) and its IRR-A, and to implement the same within their jurisdiction.”
The decision stated that “when they (Yabut and Yuzon) performed the said acts without questioning the propriety of the transaction, much less inquiring whether the same was in accordance with the existing policies and procedures, and by mechanically fixing their signature thereon, they signified their acquiesce to disregard RA 9184.”
The Ombudsman dismissed for lack of merit the administrative charges against co-respondents Lulu Alingcastre, Leonardo Mendoza, and Ramir Flores. – Rappler.com