MANILA, Philippines?Luis "Cito'' Lorenzo is the "missing link'' that can provide damning evidence against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said Thursday.
"He's the missing link. He will give us the complete picture. I'm sure of that. He wants to protect himself and his reputation and that of his family,'' Magsaysay said in a telephone interview.
Magsaysay, who mounted the 2005 Senate inquiry into the scam and recommended the filing of plunder charges against Lorenzo and other agriculture department official at the time, agreed with the idea of making the former agriculture secretary a state witness.
He said that Lorenzo could provide crucial testimony that there was a "higher authority'' who ordered the disbursement of funds purportedly for the purchase of farm inputs and implements for farmers.
"He can show evidence that he had been bypassed,'' he said, indicating that he had no reservations about Lorenzo becoming a state witness despite his apparent "principal'' role in the scam.
"I think he can still qualify. Whether the criminal aspect is erased, that's another issue. He's the principal with [Jocelyn] Bolante,'' he added.
Lorenzo, who went into exile in the United States in 2005 to avoid the inquiry and recently slipped back into the country, has vowed to cooperate with the administration "at the appropriate time.''
President Aquino, who had a chance meeting with Lorenzo at a social gathering in Makati last Saturday night, said it was possible for Lorenzo to become a state witness.
Malacañang welcomed Lorenzo's pronouncement, but said the yet to be created Truth Commission would have to determine his qualification to become a state witness. It was also willing to provide him security.
"As President Aquino indicated, he's interested to know what Secretary Lorenzo would have to say. Again that would have to be part of the parameters of the Truth Commission because the fertilizer fund scam is one of the controversies that will require closure,'' Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesperson, told reporters in a briefing.
The proposed commission, which would look into the anomalies of the Arroyo administration, would determine Lorenzo's culpability and guilt, and qualification to become state witness, he said.
"That will be covered by the Truth Commission, which will tackle his culpability, to what degree is his participation, and from there, they will be able to determine if he's the least guilty, and be discharged as a state witness,'' he said.
Lacierda said the government was ready to provide security for Lorenzo, who has hinted about threats to his life.
"He mentioned that there were threats. If it's necessary, and if it's in furtherance of searching for the truth, if he requests then we will provide,'' he said.
Magsaysay, however, expressed preference for Lorenzo to testify at hearings by the Office of the Ombudsman, where charges against him, his then undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc'' Bolante and other agriculture officials are pending.
He said that the Senate conducted a thorough investigation of the fund diversion in two separate inquiries, and that another inquiry by the Truth Commissson would be a "waste of time.''
After sitting on the case for years, it was about time the Ombudsman ruled on it and filed charges against the respondents with the Sandiganbayan, the former senator said.
"With all the COA (Commission on Audit) audits, testimonies and pieces of evidence, the Ombudsman should file the case with the Sandiganbayan within 65 days or less to show the urgency of the controversial scandal,'' he said.
"The issue has been dying on the vine. If this is taken up again by the Truth Commission, it will just be dribbled. We won't see the end of it,'' Magsaysay added.
As then chair of the Senate committee on agriculture, Magsaysay launched an inquiry into the scam in 2005 amid charges that the farmers did not receive a single peso worth of inputs and implements in 2004.
After wrapping up the inquiry, the committee in March 2006 recommended the filing of plunder and graft charges against Bolante, the alleged chief architect of the fund mess; Lorenzo; then Undersecretary Ibarra Poliquit; then Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales; then Assistant Secretary Jose Felix Montes; and all regional directors who took part in the dissipation of the money.
It also recommended that Bolante and Lorenzo be cited in contempt for defying summonses to appear at the inquiry.
In the same report, the committee recommended that Ms Arroyo be "held accountable in the mismanagement of the fertilizer fund,'' and that she institute measures to correct the flaws in her administration.
Magsaysay pooh-poohed Lorenzo's attempt to downplay his role in the mess.
"He has been saying that money did not come his way. That is neither here nor there. He was the CEO. He was the one who signed the administrative order turning over the program to Bolante, and the disbursement of the P728 million,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas shot down the idea of Lorenzo serving as a state witness.
?We don?t need another hero, Mr. President. The voluminous evidence on the P728 million fertilizer scam is enough to indict former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ex-agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn ?Jocjoc? Bolante, Mr. Lorenzo and the rest of the supporting cast that made this plunder escapade a crime against national interest in 2004,? Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
?What Mr. Aquino should do is to prepare the stage for the biggest trial of the millennium,? added Hicap.
Pamalakaya and its allies?the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Amihan federation of peasant women?filed a plunder complaint against Arroyo, Lorenzo and Bolante in June 2004 with the Ombudsman in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.