Court finds evidence vs Cito Lorenzo, Joc-joc Bolante insufficient
MANILA, Philippines–The Sandiganbayan has found no probable cause to charge former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo and Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante with plunder over the P728-million fertilizer fund scam during the Arroyo administration.
This was confirmed by Lorenzo’s lawyer, Gilbert Reyes, who hailed Wednesday’s Sandiganbayan ruling as a virtual dismissal of the plunder charges filed against the former agriculture chief three years ago.
“When a court or the Sandiganbayan ordered a judicial determination of no probable cause, that means the case was dismissed,” Reyes said, referring to the ruling released late Wednesday.
Radio dzMM reported that the Sandiganbayan gave the Ombudsman 60 days to submit additional evidence to press the case.
Aside from Lorenzo and Bolante, seven others were accused of plunder in the fertilizer scam case: former Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and private fertilizer suppliers Jaime Eonzon Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo and Leonicia Marco-Llarena.
The fertilizer fund controversy involves the alleged diversion of P728 million in fertilizer funds to the 2004 campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On May 2, the Ombudsman dismissed for lack of evidence the graft complaint against Arroyo in connection with the scam.
“Criminal culpability cannot be imputed upon respondent [Arroyo] on the basis of the doctrine of qualified political agency… In this case, without proof that respondent actually authorized the acts complained of, she cannot be held liable for the illegal acts of her subordinates,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in her resolution.
Speedy resolution sought
In September last year, the prosecution filed a motion in the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division seeking a speedy resolution of all pending motions and the immediate issuance of warrants for the arrest of Lorenzo, Bolante, Poliquit and the others accused.
In that motion, the prosecution said the trial of the accused should not be further delayed given the gravity of the charges against them.
Lorenzo asked the Sandiganbayan to decide on his pending motion and hasten the resolution of his case.
All of the pending motions were filed in July 2011 immediately after the accused were charged.
Lorenzo filed a motion to dismiss the plunder case against him, claiming lack of a preliminary investigation and asked for judicial determination of probable cause.
Bolante, Poliquit and Marco-Llarena also filed motions for judicial determination of probable cause while Flordeliza asked the court to dismiss the charge against him for lack of probable cause.
Paule sought the suspension of proceedings and to hold the issuance of a warrant for his arrest.
The resolution of the case has been hounded by delays since the scam was first exposed in March 2004 by then presidential candidate Panfilo Lacson.
Lacson accused Arroyo of “virtual vote-buying” for allowing the release of funds to favored officials to buy farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticide for their constituents.
He questioned the timing of the release of funds and claimed that some of the districts on the list of recipients did not even have farmlands.
Taking his cue from Lacson’s accusations, lawyer Frank Chavez (now deceased) filed plunder charges against Arroyo, naming Bolante as one of those who signed the papers for the release and disposition of the funds.
The Senate then conducted an inquiry, which began in the 13th Congress and continued during the 14th Congress.
In October 2005, the Senate committee on agriculture chaired by then Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., launched an inquiry into the controversy with Bolante—who quit his post in September 2004—as the main witness.
Bolante, however, fled to the United States before the inquiry could start.
On the request of the Senate, the US Embassy canceled Bolante’s visa and he was arrested and held in the United States. His petition for asylum was rejected by the courts and he was deported to the Philippines.
In October 2008, representatives from the Senate’s Office of the Sergeant at Arms arrested Bolante on his arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Testimony in Congress
Three years after he was first summoned to attend the legislative inquiry, Bolante finally appeared in the Senate in November 2008, this time before the blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon.
In his testimony in the Senate, Bolante cleared Arroyo of liability, saying the “implementation of the P728-million farm input-farm implement program was approved by [the budget department] without the President’s approval.”
Bolante also appeared before the House committee on agriculture, where he cleared all House members, governors and mayors whose names appeared on a purported list of beneficiaries of the fund, saying they were merely project proponents with whom the Department of Agriculture coordinated.
The Senate blue ribbon committee concluded its investigation of the scam in February 2009.
Describing them as a “pack of wolves,” the committee recommended the prosecution of Bolante and nine others.–With a report from Ana Roa, Inquirer Research
Court orders arrest of solon, 5 others
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