Prosecutors allowed to drop case vs fertilizer scam whistleblower
MANILA — The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has allowed state prosecutors to withdraw the graft case against fertilizer fund scam whistleblower Jose Barredo Jr., who had been mistakenly charged alongside the municipal officials of Maasin, Iloilo.
At the same time, in a rare such win for the Office of the Ombudsman, the anti-graft court also denied Mayor Mariano Malones’ motion to dismiss on the grounds of inordinate delay and lack of probable cause.
Malones is one of the dozens of local executives indicted over the purchase of overpriced fertilizers and the violation of procurement rules during the run-up to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Specifically, this case involved the April 2004 memorandum of agreement for the purchase of 666 bottles of Bio-Nature liquid organic fertilizers from Feshan Philippines, Inc., for P999,000 (or P1,500 each).The deal was sealed allegedly without public bidding and despite the availability of cheaper alternatives.
Barredo, a representative of fertilizer supplier Feshan Philippines, Inc., was also charged in some of these cases. Through a January 2015 immunity agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman, he turned into a state witness and testified to being a “runner” who delivered kickbacks to government officials.
Yet, prosecutors said that for “unknown reasons,” he had been included in the case against Malones that was filed at the Sandiganbayan only last October.
In a nine-page minute resolution, the court admitted the amended information that dropped Barredo’s name from the charges amid opposition by Malones, municipal accountant Cecilio Montefrio, and accounting office officer-in-charge Jimmy Borra.
Contrary to the Maasin officials’ contention, the court found the prosecution to have complied with the requirements of Rule 110, Section 14 of the Rules of Court, which allowed the amendment of the case information before arraignment.
The court also cited Section 17 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which authorized the Ombudsman to enter into the January 2015 immunity agreement with Barredo.
“It thus appears that the striking out of Barredo’s name as an accused is only to correct the inadvertence of the Office of the Ombudsman in the preparation of the original information and in line with its earlier determination on granting immunity to Barredo for the successful prosecution of the fertilizer fund cases,” read the minute resolution.
No unreasonable delay in indictment
Through the same minute resolution, the court also found that there was no unreasonable delay in the Office of the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation warranting the case’s dismissal.
This marks a departure from the fate of most fertilizer fund scam cases these days, which have been thrown out left and right on the grounds of violating the accused officials’ right to the speedy disposition of their cases.
Although it took five years for May 2011 complaint to prosper into a court case last October, the court considered the fact that the Office of the Ombudsman had to reconstitute the Special Panel on Task Force Abono and review the case again. Afterwards, preliminary investigation was found to have proceeded without glaring delays.
The court also noted that the Maasin officials “actively contributed” to the delay by asking for an extension in the filing of their counter-affidavits and still failing to meet the new deadline.
At the same time, the court also reiterated its independent assessment of probable cause to order their arrests, which were preempted by the posting of bail.
Malones recently made news last August after President Rodrigo Duterte accused him of being among the local Iloilo politicians who coddled the illegal drug trade. SFM
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