Supreme Court revives fertilizer fund scam case vs Lito Lapid

 

MANILA, Philippines – Three years after winning his fertilizer fund scam case before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, Senator Lito Lapid will have to face it one more time after the Supreme Court (SC) revived it.

In a resolution released on Thursday, December 5, the SC 2nd Division reversed the ruling of the Sandiganbayan that dismissed the graft case based on inordinate delay.

"The resolutions insofar as it dismissed the criminal case against respondents Manuel M. Lapid, M. Victoria M. Aquino-Abubakar, Leolita Aquino and Dexter Alexander S.D Vasquez are reversed and set aside. Sandiganbayan is directed to resolve the criminal case with reasonable dispatch," said the resolution penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr, with concurrences from retired justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Amy Lazaro Javier and Rodil Zalameda.

Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa dissented.

What is the case about? Lapid's case is part of the fertilizer fund scam scandal during the Gloria Arroyo administration, involving overpriced fertilizers.

In 2004, the Pampanga provincial government under Lapid bought 3,880 bottles of fertilizers for P4.761 million or at P1,250 per liter, when there was another offer for P150 per liter. This meant the deal was overpriced by P4.268 million.

The Office of the Ombudsman also said there was no public bidding.

In 2006, the Ombudsman began its fact-finding investigation, but only started the formal preliminary investigation in 2011. The Ombudsman issued its indictment in 2013 and took another two years, or in 2015, to file the charges before the Sandiganbayan.

The ant-graft court sided with Lapid that there was inordinate delay at the Ombudsman's level – a winning formula used by many politicians, and which has greatly affected the Ombudsman's success rate.

It became the bane of Conchita Carpio Morales during her stint as Ombudsman. In August 2018, on Morales' petition, the SC came out with a ruling that clarified the computation of inordinate delay, and excluded the fact-finding phase from the computation of the investigative period.

What did the Supreme Court say? Applying its own computation guidelines, the Reyes ponencia said there was no inordinate delay.

"The Court finds that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion when it dismissed the criminal case against Lapid et al supposedly due to inordinate delay," said the ruling.

The High Court also said that based on the pleadings filed by Lapid himself, the period it took from preliminary investigation to the filing of charges was reasonable.

"In sum, delay becomes inordinate only in the presence of arbitrary, vexatious, and oppressive actions or inactions that are discernible from the proceedings. No such delay attended the Ombudsman's proceedings that would warrant the dismissal of the criminal case against herein respondents," said the ruling.

In his dissenting opinion, Caguioa said the ruling didn't take into account that the delay from the fact-finding investigation (2006) to the preliminary investigation (2011) "may have led to the loss of material documents or any other evidence that they could have used to put up an effective defense." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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