Court to dismiss plunder vs fertilizer scam accused if…
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has found no sufficient evidence of plunder against former agriculture officials and private individuals over the fertilizer fund scam, and may dismiss the case unless government prosecutors bolster it.
In a resolution dated August 15, but made public only on Thursday, August 28, the court also held that Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, agriculture undersecretary during the Arroyo administration, is the only principal accused, while the others who have been charged were mere “co-conspirators.” The P50-million ($1.14 million*) threshold for plunder therefore applies only to him.
For allegedly amassing P265.4 million ($6.07 million) from from the Ginintuang Masaganing Ani program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Bolante, former Secretary Luis Lorenzo, former Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and private individuals Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo, and Leonicia Marco-Llarena are facing plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan Second Division.
“The Court finds and so rules, that the prosecution failed to establish the presence of the second element of the crime of plunder, i.e., that the accused public officer/s amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts.
Associate Justice Napoleon E. Inoturan penned the resolution with Associate Justices Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos and Alexander G. Gesmundo concurring.
Since there is no proof that Bolante amassed this amount or more from the fertilizer fund transactions, the case against him and his co-accused will have to be dismissed.
However, the Sandiganbayan is giving the Ombudsman 60 days to submit additional evidence to bolster the indictment of plunder particularly against Bolante.
Ombudsman blames predecessor
Sought for a comment, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales pointed out that the plunder case was filed before her term.
"That's the court talking so what am I supposed to comment on? They told us to beef up our evidence in 60 days. By the way, I did not file the information. It was my predecessor who filed the information, so, for every faux pas, alledged faux pas that the Ombudsman commits, we do not take it personally," Morales said on the sidelines of a budget hearing at the House of Representatives on Thursday, August 28.
Despite the court findings, Morales insisted that the Ombudsman has a strong case on the fertilizer fund scam.
"Yes, we have a strong case. We are not filing a case if we do not have a strong case. We are going to comply with the order in court. We are going to do that as directed, within 60 days from the order," she told reporters.
The Bolante fertilizer scam, which was investigated by the Senate blue ribbon, involved P728 million ($16.65 million) in Department of Agriculture (DA) funds under the Ginintuang Masaganing Ani program.
Prosecutors said P265.64 million out of this sum went to the pockets of Bolante and his co-accused pocketed. They alleged that Bolante failed to liquidate P56.64 million of the amount.
It was believed the farm fund was used to finance the political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the May 2004 polls, which she won amid allegations of massive fraud.
On July 4, 2011, the Ombudsman filed plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan against Bolante and his co-accused.
In its August 15 resolution, the court said: “The OMB failed to allege, and even substantiate, how the funds eventually found their way back to Bolante. Since the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by the accused public official is an essential element of the crime of plunder, it is incumbent upon the OMB to present proof.”
The Sandiganbayan clarified, however, that if plunder is not established by the prosecutors, lesses offenses such as malversation or graft may be filed against the accused.
“If this were a simple malversation case and it is shown that accused Bolante is an accountable officer who had custody or possession of the funds, then the mere fact that the funds are missing and unaccounted for would be sufficient to determine probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Last May 8, the Ombudsman cleared Arroyo, who is now Pampanga congresswoman. It said in a resolution that the complainants, which included several anti-Arroyo groups, failed to present documentary or testimonial evidence that would prove Arroyo's involvement in the scheme. – Rappler.com