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Ex-Ombudsman let Lapids off plunder case before quitting her post

/ 10:22 PM September 20, 2011

Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. INQUIRER file photo

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—In one of her last acts in office and one she made before she stepped down, former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez cleared Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid, son Mark and three ex-Pampanga officials of plunder in connection with more than P500 million in unremitted quarrying fees.

The order was approved by Gutierrez on March 9, before she filed a letter of resignation as Ombudsman on April 29. The resignation took effect on May 6.

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Fr. Eddie Panlilio, former Pampanga governor who filed the case, said he discovered the order only when he went to the Ombudsman to follow up the case last week.

Luz Awayan, graft investigation and prosecution officer, prepared the resolution dated Nov. 25, 2010. Mary Antonette Yalao, director of the preliminary investigation, administrative adjudication and review bureau (PARB), concurred with the resolution while Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro recommended its approval.

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Arroyo protector

Gutierrez resigned amid allegations she had been protecting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and their allies.

“It’s very sad. I believe that the Ombudsman did not look well into the case or even into the lifestyles [of the Lapids and their co-respondents],” Panlilio said on Tuesday.

The Lapids were charged with failing to remit quarrying fees to the government from 2002 to 2007 during their terms as governors. The elder Lapid was governor from 1995 to 2004. He was succeeded by his son who became governor from 2004 to 2007.

Provincial Administrator Andres Pangilinan Jr., a lawyer, said Tuesday he would check if the provincial legal office has a copy of the order.

If it did but did not file a motion for reconsideration, that could mean two things—the administration of Gov. Lilia Pineda either defaulted or was not interested in pursuing the case, said former Provincial Administrator Vivian Dabu.

The co-respondents of the Lapids in the case are former Provincial Administrator Fidel Arcenas and former Provincial Treasurers Jovito Sabado and Vergel Yabut.

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Second hurdle

This was the second time that Senator Lapid, a former movie actor, was cleared of graft charges.

In 2004, the Ombudsman withdrew from the Sandiganbayan a set of information for the prosecution of a case originally filed by the National Bureau of Investigation on alleged illegal collection of quarry fees in 1998. The Ombudsman said the information was “hearsay.”

In the recent case, the Ombudsman said Panlilio’s complaint “miserably failed to show that respondents acquired ill-gotten wealth.”

In the province, though, checkpoints maintained by the provincial and local governments are set up only meters apart.

The Ombudsman said the distribution of receipts and use of fake receipts in a town where there was no quarry operations did not show that the respondents were probably guilty. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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TAGS: Lito Lapid, mark lapid, merceditas gutierrez, Ombudsman, Plunder, Regions
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