Ex-agri officials may soon be arrested
Former agriculture officials charged with plunder in connection with the alleged P728–million fertilizer fund scam may soon face arrest.
The Sandiganbayan, taking the first step toward resolving the plunder case, raffled if off on Friday, resulting in the Second Division being tasked to handle the case should it go to trial.
With the case now assigned to a division, the next step is for the justices to determine if there is probable cause to issue warrants for the arrest of the accused.
Charged with plunder are former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, former Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, former Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and fertilizer suppliers Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Leonicia Llarena and Jose Barredo. Barredo was the whistle-blower who revealed the alleged scam to the Senate.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense, but the accused could still ask for bail, as there had been occasions when it had been granted.
For instance, Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada was a coaccused in his father’s plunder case, but the antigraft court allowed him temporary liberty on the ground that the evidence against him was speculative. He was later acquitted.
But his father, deposed President Joseph Estrada, was placed under house arrest while being tried for plunder.
In some instances, the accused may also ask the court to defer issuing arrest warrants until after probable cause against them had been determined.
The Second Division that will hear the plunder case is chaired by Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos.
Baldos was a member of the Second Division when it approved the controversial plea bargain in the plunder case against former military comptroller Carlos Garcia, which was roundly condemned by President Aquino and others.
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