Sandiganbayan affirms rejection of plea bargain deal in fertilizer fund scam

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan 3rd Division affirmed a ruling that denied the plea bargain offer filed by 3 members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the municipal government of Libertad, Misamis Oriental.

Oscar Benlot, Elizabeth Pagalan, and Sergio Jacalan Jr had been charged with graft involving P4.99 million from the Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Program during the Arroyo administration in 2004. The case is known as the fertilizer fund scam.

During the 3 defendants' arraignment on June 29 last year, they pleaded not guilty.

They later sought a plea bargain on July 26, 2017, offering to plead guilty to the lesser offense of indirect bribery. The prosecution argued, however, that this offer was baseless since indirect bribery is not among the pending charges.

The anti-graft court then rejected the plea bargain offer.

"The acceptance of an offer to plead guilty to a lesser offense is not demandable by the accused as a matter of right but is a matter that is addressed entirely to the sound discretion of the trial court," the Sandiganbayan had said.

Aside from Benlot, Pagalan, and Jacalan, also charged were their fellow BAC members Lucia Almeñe and Isidro Gervacio, former Libertad mayor Alberto Acain, as well as Green's International Enterprises (GIE) executives Ricardo Mendoza Jr and Maria Lourdes Mendoza.

GIE, the contractor, was allegedly given undue preference in two fertilizer supply deals worth P4.99 million. –