Prosecutors appeal Masbate gov Kho’s junked fertilizer scam rap
State prosecutors asked for the court’s understanding to reconsider its dismissal of Masbate governor Antonio Kho’s fertilizer fund scam case, noting that the delay in the filing of the case was justifiable and that trial should proceed in the interest of justice.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor filed a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan First Division of its decision granting Kho’s motion to quash his graft charges for his alleged involvement in the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.
In their appeal, state prosecutors said there was no inordinate delay in their filing of Kho’s graft information, which took five years for the Ombudsman to file since it started its investigation of the complaint.
The anti-graft court said the Ombudsman received the complaint May 2011, but it only filed the criminal information before the Sandiganbayan Nov. 2016.
The prosecution said the concept of speedy disposition is “relative and flexible,” and that the court’s concept of inordinate delay as basis to dismiss Kho’s case was “premised on overly strict and unrealistic standards.”
The prosecution appealed for the court “to be mindful of the limitations and realities being confronted” by the Ombudsman, such as its heavy workload and its limited number of personnel.
The prosecution added that the delay in the filing of criminal information was “justifiable” and caused by the Ombudsman’s observance of due process, the process of review, the change in leadership in the office, the respect over the rights of the accused, as well as the steady stream and volume of cases being filed at the office.
The prosecution noted too that the respondents did not even raise the issue of inordinate delay in the conduct of the preliminary investigation, and that the respondents failed to present proof that the delay prevented them from preparing their defense due to loss of evidence and witnesses.
Finally, the prosecution appealed that the court consider the interest of the public, especially the farmers who were deprived of fertilizers in the scam, over the accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.
“In the interest of justice, the court should allow the trial of these cases to proceed because the P5 million project supposedly for the province of Masbate was not implemented as planned by the government to improve the lives of the farmers… Indeed, a party’s individual rights should not work against and preclude the people’s equally important right to public justice,” the prosecution said.
The prosecution’s appeal in Kho’s dismissed case followed the Ombudsman’s bid asking the Supreme Court to clearly define what inordinate delay meant, following a spate of cases that were dismissed due to this doctrine.
The Ombudsman also urged the Supreme Court to “direct the Sandiganbayan to temporarily suspend the application of the ‘inordinate delay’ doctrine” pending a ruling of the high court.
Before the dismissal of his case, Kho was charged for the allegedly anomalous procurement of liquid fertilizers with Hexaphil Agriventures in 2004 causing undue injury to government.
In his first graft charge, Kho was accused of giving undue advantage and preference to Hexaphil in the Dec. 2004 purchase of 2,499 bottles of liquid fertilizer at P700.08 per bottle for a total amount of P1.732 million.
His second charge stemmed from the April 2004 purchase of 4,642.33 bottles of Hexaphil at P700.08 per bottle for a total amount of P3.2 million.
Ombudsman prosecutors said the purchases were done without public bidding and marred with irregularities — by making specific reference to the brand Hexaphil in the purchase request despite availability of several brands, by resorting to direct contracting without valid justification, and by accepting the spurious eligibility requirements submitted by Hexaphil.
Prosecutors said these irregularities were violations of the Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Kho is the incumbent governor of Masbate after winning the 2016 elections against dismissed governor Rizalina Seachon Lañete, who was out on bail for plunder over the alleged Janet Lim-Napoles pork barrel scam.
Kho’s funds for liquid fertilizers were sourced from the P728-million “Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Program” of the Department of Agriculture under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo meant to provide poor farmers with fertilizer, irrigation, seeds, education and training, loans, as well as dryers and post-harvest facilities.
The P728-million fertilizer funds were said to have been diverted to Arroyo’s campaign kitty to pay off favored local officials. The funds were released three months before the 2004 elections. Arroyo was cleared by the Ombudsman over the alleged scam. JE/rga
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