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Whistle-blower cries foul

Witness vows to tell all if he’s called to testify
/ 04:22 AM April 19, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—After agreeing to turn state witness against key players in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, Jose Barredo could not believe he would end up among those charged with plunder.

“I didn’t get anything. Even if you investigate my background, you will see that we are not well-off,” he told reporters Monday.

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Barredo is among the people the Office of the Ombudsman had recommended to be charged with plunder for the alleged diversion of P728 million in fertilizer funds for the 2004 election campaign of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo and his undersecretary, Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante, are on top of the list the Ombudsman had recommended for prosecution last week after a seven-year investigation.

Also included are former agriculture officials and officers and personnel of fertilizer companies.

The recommendation was issued three weeks before the start of the impeachment trial in the Senate of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on six counts, including her claimed inaction on the fertilizer scam that critics said was meant to protect Arroyo.

Barredo is incredulous that he, who had earned P10,000 a month as a runner in the scam, would be charged with plunder, a crime that involves stealing at least P50 million in public funds.

Just an employee

He said he was just an employee and insisted that he had not gotten anything from the fertilizer deals. With his testimony in the Senate in 2005 and 2008, he thought he would be immune from suit, he said.

Barredo had testified in the Senate that Marites Aytona, who was allegedly fronting for Bolante, had offered him the job of selling liquid fertilizer from Feshan Philippines Inc. to lawmakers, governors and mayors who would receive the fertilizer funds.
The use of the funds was considered a crime because of the alleged overprice of the fertilizer, and the irregularities in the release and distribution of the money.

According to Barredo, he had difficulty making ends meet after he testified at the Senate hearings and could not even afford an operation for his heart illness.

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He could have had the operation during the Arroyo administration, when an offer to buy his silence was made, but he said he turned it down.

Impeachment case

Barredo said he could not help but speculate whether the recommendation to charge him with plunder was related to the Gutierrez impeachment case, since he had heard of talk that he could be invited to testify there.

In his earlier testimony, Barredo said he became a partner of Aytona in 1997 when they worked together at the Department of Health’s medicine distribution program and later in the construction business.

In 2004, Barredo said he got a call from Aytona regarding the distribution of the fertilizer funds.

Barredo said he and Aytona approached congressmen, governors and mayors to inform them there was an agriculture department fund available to them for the purchase of fertilizer, and that they would get a 30-percent commission.

He said he himself delivered the commissions to certain officials in Roxas City, Bulacan, Aklan, Guimaras and other places.

No regrets

The 52-year-old Barredo said that despite being recommended for criminal charges, he had no regrets about speaking out and did not intend to keep silent now.

“Maybe the Ombudsman thought I would be cowed,” he said over the phone, adding he stood by his decision to tell all he knew about the scheme.

Before working with Aytona, Barredo had worked in Saudi Arabia for a California-based firm’s engineering division.

He became a taxi driver on his return to the Philippines and subsequently met Aytona in the 90s as a passenger. Being by nature friendly, he and Aytona started chatting and he learned about her business woes.

Because of this, he introduced her to his friends in Bulacan who had some influence, and Aytona was able to get back on her feet. She later got contracts to supply medicines to local governments, he said.

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TAGS: Agriculture, Crime and Law and Justice, Graft & Corruption, Impeachment, Joc-joc Bolante
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