Ex-mayor, 4 others guilty in ‘fertilizer scam’ case
MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has convicted former Mayor Carmencita Daep of Manito, Albay, of graft over the anomalous disbursement of P2.9 million worth of fertilizer funds in 2004, banning her for life from holding public office.
In a 48-page decision promulgated on Oct. 21, the antigraft court’s Fourth Division also found four of Daep’s co-accused guilty of the graft charge filed against them in 2016 by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The co-accused were Manito’s former municipal accountant Ameife Lacbain, municipal budget officer and Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) chair Dioscoro Aldares, and BAC members Arnold Calsiña and Ernesto Millena.
The case against one of the co-accused, former BAC vice chair Roberto Alvarez, was archived by the Sandigabayan as he remained at large when the judgment was handed down.
Daep and the others were charged by then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales of violating Republic Act No. 3019, or the antigraft law, for favoring Hexaphil Agriventures Inc. to buy 4,285 bottles of liquid fertilizer through direct contracting.
Each bottle of the Hexaplus liquid fertilizer cost P700, with the former officials of Manito disbursing P2.9 million to the company to purchase the bottles.
In their indictment, the Ombudsman said Hexaphil was not registered with the Department of Trade and Industry and its registration was revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hexaphil’s license to operate was also found to be non-existent and falsified.
Records cited by the Ombudsman showed that the town of Manito was a beneficiary of the Arroyo administration’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) program, receiving an allocation of P3 million.
Citing records shown to them, the Sandiganbayan said the Manito town’s BAC already scheduled the opening of bids on March 15, 2004, but the committee “already zeroed in on one brand of liquid fertilizer—Hexaplus—and one supplier—Hexaphil” on March 12 of the same year.
This prompted state prosecutors to press that Daep and the BAC officials gave “unwarranted benefits” to Hexaphil.
“Not only did their actions operate to exclude other possible suppliers, Hexaphil’s selection lacked adequate and official support, considering that it had no legal personality to enter into a contract with the municipality of Manito and offer to sell its unregistered fertilizer,” read the decision written by Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto. Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi (the division chair) and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna agreed with the decision to convict Daep.
The court also said that even the accused’s own witness, Manito’s agriculturist Ciriaco Padre Jr., admitted that there were other liquid fertilizers that had the same specifications as Hexaplus’.
“The public is injured by the mere fact that procurement laws were transgressed since it was deprived of the opportunity of securing a purchase that is most advantageous to public interest, while at the same time being assured that it was done so at the least possible expense,” Jacinto’s decision added.
The purchased fertilizers also contained “unknown components and of undetermined efficacy,” according to the Sandiganbayan.
It noted that the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) had no records of the fertilizer’s itemized list of raw materials used, its production process, target users, bio-efficacy field trials or tests, and laboratory tests—documents that should have been submitted to the FPA to qualify for a Certificate of Product Registration.
Given this, “there is no doubt” that the municipal government of Manito “suffered damages” worth P2.9 million, which was paid to Hexaphil for the liquid fertilizers.
“In other words, what was purchased by the accused and distributed to the farmers of the Municipality of Manito was a liquid fertilizer made of unknown components and of undetermined efficacy,” the court pointed out.
There was also an attempt by the accused to “cover up their acts” by making it appear that two public biddings were conducted “and that both failed.”
“Taking into consideration their (accused) respective duties as public officers, all the accused’s acts as described above are indicative of a conspiracy to accord unwarranted benefit to Hexaphil through manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence,” it said.
The procurement happened the same year the P728-million fertilizer fund scam broke out, in which former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante allegedly diverted the funds to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s election campaign in 2004.
Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a candidate in the presidential elections that year, exposed the alleged fund diversion.
Lacson accused Arroyo of “virtual vote-buying” by authorizing the release of funds to favored officials to buy farm inputs for their constituents.
The Senate then conducted an inquiry and in February 2009 recommended the prosecution of Bolante and nine others.
In May 2014, however, the Ombudsman cleared Arroyo of liability in the scam.