Sandiganbayan affirms fertilizer scam raps vs ex-Butuan mayor
MANILA — The Sandiganbayan has sustained the graft charges against former Butuan City mayor Leonides Theresa Plaza and seven other local officials in connection with the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.
The court’s Third Division, through Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, issued two separate resolutions junking the separate motions filed by the eight defendants who sought the dismissal of the P5-million graft cases.
Plaza faces two counts of graft over the purchase of 3,333 bottles of liquid fertilizer from Feshan Philippines, Inc., at a price of P1,500 each. State auditors and prosecutors said this was attended by procurement irregularities and overpricing, citing the existence of two cheap brands with market prices of P120 or P125 per bottle.
In Plaza’s case, the court denied her appeal to overturn its Sept. 21 resolution, which earlier refused to throw out the charges on the grounds of allegedly unreasonable delay on the Ombudsman’s part.
The court said Plaza raised no new argument to warrant the reversal of the earlier resolution. The Office of the Ombudsman might have taken five years to indict her and bring the case to court but that did not automatically establish that her right to the speedy disposition of her case was violated.
The resolution also noted Plaza’s failure to show how she suffered prejudice because of the length of time taken by the preliminary investigation stage.
The court also rejected her contention that the Ombudsman violated the Rules of Court’s provision for the investigating officer to come up with a resolution within 10 days of the probe’s conclusion. It cited the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in 2000 that “that period of time is merely directory.”
Meanwhile, the court in a separate 15-page resolution also denied three motions by the co-accused officials, who anchored their challenges on lack of probable cause, inordinate delay, absence of evidence of conspiracy, and defects in the case information.
These motions were filed by city agriculturist Salvador Satorre, assistant city treasurer Arthur Castro, general services officer Rodolfo Evanoso, city accountant Bebiano Calo and supply officer Melita Loida Galbo, as well as city treasurer Adulfo Llagas, and budget officer Danilo Furia.
The court swept aside all these arguments for lack of merit, because these have been tackled already by the Sept. 21 resolution denying Plaza’s motion.
“The Court’s findings are equally applicable to herein accused-movants considering that they are all being charged under the same facts and circumstances,” the resolution read.
It reiterated the existence of probable cause, finding the evidence so far to be sufficient proof that the accused were probably guilty of the offense and should be subjected to trial.
Such evidence of irregularities include: Feshan’s submission of a price quotation a month before the special allotment release order was issued on February 2004, and the delivery of fertilizer on Apr. 20, two days before the notice of canvass was issued.
It also noted that several incidents all took place in the span of one day on Apr. 22: the issuance of the notice of canvass, the rather prompt submission of replies, the release of the purchase order to Feshan, and the partial payment of checks to Feshan.
“The Court reiterates its earlier finding that probable cause exists for the issuance of warrant of arrest against accused-movants, along with the other accused,” the resolution read. SFM