Fertilizer scam case vs Marinduque ex-gov nears trial

MANILA, Philippines – Almost 3 years after being charged, former Marinduque provincial governor Carmencita Reyes and agriculture officials will finally stand trial for graft and illegal use of public funds related to the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

Ombudsman prosecutors filed their pre-trial brief on Tuesday, January 8, before the graft court’s Second Division. Reyes’ arraignment has been set for January 14 at 1:30 pm.

The cases, filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in June 2011, concern funds released in 2004 supposedly to help poor farmers. Reyes and agriculture officials are accused of using the money to purchase unsuitable fertilizer and equipment from favored suppliers without the required public bidding.

Prosecutors said P5 million of the fund went to the province of Marinduque. 

Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante was allegedly the mastermind of the multi-million-peso fund scam which involved the supposed diversion of government funds to the campaign of former president and now Pampanga 2nd district Rep Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Bolante has been charged with plunder.

Paper trail

In the pre-trial brief, prosecutors named government auditors as principal witnesses against the accused. 

Included among the witnesses are State Auditor V Flerida Jimenez and members of her team who prepared the special audit report on the disbursement of funds under the Farm Input and Farm Implements Program (FIFIP).

Also in the list are State Auditors Nelia Villeza of the Commission on Audit Central Office and Erlina Mari of Department of Agriculture Region IV. Yet to be named officials of the Budget and Finance Departments will also take the witness stand. 

Through the testimonies of the witnesses, prosecutors are hoping to follow the paper trails of transactions made after the release of the funds. They aim to find out how supplier LCV Design and Fabrication Corporation was chosen and why public bidding was skipped. Witness accounts can also reveal the individual acts of each defendant indicating conspiracy.

Exchanging accusations

Legal challenges mounted by defendants are chiefly responsible for the delay in the progress of the case.

Reyes and other accused politicians blamed Region IV agriculture officials for the crime while the officials threw back the same accusation saying governors and congressmen were the ones who chose the suppliers and items to be purchased.

After the Sandiganbayan set Reyes' arraignment, her lawyer Marie Fe Galvez-Garcia moved for a cancellation and deferment of further proceedings.

She said Reyes' pending petition for review before the Supreme Court makes the validity of the indictment questionable.  

"…(I)n order not to render the petition filed by the accused moot and academic, the deferment of the proceedings against herein accused is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court. This motion is not intended to delay the proceedings in this case but is reluctantly sought solely on the basis of the aforementioned reason,” Garcia said. – Rappler.com

Gavel image from Shutterstock

Sacks of fertilizer image from Shutterstock