Pimentel files criminal charges vs 4 DA officials

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Tuesday, May 13, filed criminal and administrative charges against 4 agriculture officials for allegedly forging his signature to “fake” his  involvement in fund releases for organic farming in Surigao del Norte in 2012.

In his complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman dated May 13, Pimentel sought the preventive suspension of Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Antonio Fleta; Delia Ladera, supervising administrative officer;  Charie Sarah Saquing, department chief accountant; and Telma Tolentino, DA budget division officer-in-charge.

“Pending investigation, I ask that the respondents be preventively suspended as their continued stay in office may prejudice the just, fair and independent disposition of the cases against them,” he said in a letter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales attached to his affidavit-complaint.

Pimentel has accused the officials of falsification of a public document, the crime of Other Deceits under the Revised Penal Code, and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials in connection with fund releases for organic farming in Surigao del Sur.

MOA

Pimentel said he learned about his supposed “participation” in a Memorandum of Agreement  (MOA) between the DA and the Surigao del Sur provincial government on September 24, 2013, when Kabataan Party List Representative Terry Ridon told him he saw the document at a House hearing on the DA budget.

Pimentel said the MOA dated November 20, 2012 was between the DA and Surigao del Sur, signed by Fleta and Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel.

The senator said one of the MOA’s “whereas” paragraphs mentioned that his Senate office had reportedly allocated P10 million for the project, and another paragraph stated that he had supposedly identified Surigao del Sur as the recipient.

On September 26, 2013, he directed his deputy chief of staff to seek clarification from  Fleta on the MOA.

Pimentel said Fleta cited two letters – one from the Surigao del Norte governor, dated October 22, 2012, addressed to the senator seeking a P10-million allocation for his province for the organic farming program.

The second letter, dated October 29, 2012, was supposedly sent by Pimentel to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala “requesting the release of Php30 million for the Agro Industrial Enhancement through organic farming for high value crops to be implemented and closely monitored by provincial governments including Surigao del Sur in the amount of P10,000,000.00.”

Pimentel said the DA has “refused/failed” to produce the October 29, 2012 “fake letter.” In an interview with reporters after he filed the complaint, he said his office never received the letter from the Surigao del Sur governor, and had no record of the letter he supposedly sent to Alcala.

“I DENY writing, signing or sending this letter. The letter is falsified. It is a fake. The signature in the letter is a forgery, an imitation. The letterhead is not the letterhead of the official stationery of my office,” he said in his complaint, adding that a handwriting expert will prove his assertion.

Falsified document

Pimentel said the “dubious circumstances surrounding the anomalous release of P10,000,000.00  in favor of Surigao del Sur clearly show that respondent Antonio A. Fleta either falsified the subject forged letter, or caused the falsification thereof, and used the same, as narrated in the following paragraphs.”

The senator also said that whistleblower Benhur Luy had testified at the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam that the concerned MOA was executed in Fleta’s office.

“Benhur Luy, under oath, confirmed this elaborate scheme of using supposed letters of legislators as part of the modus operandi to illegally release and disburse government funds, involving respondent Undersecretary Fleta and Janet Lim Napoles, as can be read in Benhur Luy’s testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee,” he said.

Pimentel alleged that Tolentino is liable for certifying the obligation request when there was no Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) involved. 

“She was aware of the MoA narrating that the release of such funds was pursuant to a Special Allotment Release Order, and yet there was really no SARO involved,” he said, adding that she should have  “demanded for the production and inspection of the SARO as a pre-condition for her certification.”

He said Saquing is also liable as she had co-signed with Fleta the disbursement voucher for P10 million, while Ladera had co-signed with Fleta the check for the Surigao del Sur government when there was no supporting SARO for the release.

Pimentel alleged that the officials are administratively liable “for gross misconduct and dishonesty in the performance of their public functions.”

He also accused the respondents of acts of dishonesty and for having “performed acts leading to the illegal diversion and release of public funds” without a SARO, which make them “administratively liable for grave misconduct.”

Pimentel told reporters after he filed his complaint that he would like the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Ombudsman to look into the organic farming fund under the DA to determine if there are other similar cases of forgery in pursuit of fund releases. 

“Was I the only senator or the only letter writer they forged?” he said. – Rappler.com