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Fertilizer scam case vs ex-governor junked

Sandiganbayan says former official’s right to speedy disposition of case violated
/ 12:09 AM May 10, 2017
Mario Joel Reyes

Mario Joel Reyes

The Sandiganbayan on Monday dismissed a graft case against former Palawan Gov. Mario Joel Reyes due to what the antigraft court called as “inordinate delay” in filing cases against the former official.

The case involved the misuse of P3.25-million allocation under the government’s Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Program (Fifip) in 2004.

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Reyes was among local officials around the country who were indicted for allegedly taking part in the scheme to divert funds from Fifip in 2004. The scheme was later known as the fertilizer fund scam.

In its 14-page resolution on Monday, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division granted Reyes’ motion to dismiss the case following a legal victory of his two coaccused from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

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Reyes took a cue from the moves of Rodolfo Guieb, DA regional technical director, and Dennis Araullo, DA regional executive director, whose cases were thrown out on March 15 due to the violation of their right to speedy disposition of their cases.

Just like in the case of Guieb and Araullo, the antigraft court faulted the Office of the Ombudsman for taking “close to 12 years” before finally filing formal charges against Reyes in September 2016.

The period included the fact-finding investigation stage from 2004 until Task Force Abono initiated the case for preliminary investigation in May 2011.

The Sandiganbayan cited the Supreme Court’s October 2016 “unequivocal” ruling in the case of retired Commodore Lamberto Torres. It states that speedy disposition of cases is required at “all stages to which the accused is subjected, even including fact-finding investigations conducted prior to the preliminary investigation proper.”

The court also did not buy the prosecution’s claim that the delay was a reasonable part of due process and that the respondents were heard during the preliminary investigation.

It said this reasoning “did not sufficiently explain the long stretches of time … that the case against the accused
remained pending with no apparent action.”

The court stressed that while it recognized the “immense scope” of the fertilizer fund scam, the delay “cannot be countenanced lest we run afoul of the constitutional protection afforded by the right to speedy disposition of cases.”

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Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Rafael Lagos penned the resolution, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.

Reyes earlier lost his first attempt to throw out the case through a motion for judicial determination of probable cause that questioned the basis of his indictment by the Ombudsman.

The Sandiganbayan First Division, which originally handled the case, affirmed in a Dec. 1, 2016 resolution that sufficient evidence existed to subject him to trial.

Reyes, Guieb and Araullo, along with Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (Mamfi) officers Marina Sula and Nathaniel Tan, were accused of misusing P3.25-million allocated to Fifip.

The officials allegedly favored Mamfi to implement the project without holding a public bidding and even if the nongovernment organization was not accredited by the government.

Reyes is facing trial for the January 2011 murder of broadcast journalist Gerry Ortega. The former governor was detained at the Puerto Princesa City jail after he was arrested in Phuket, Thailand, in September 2015 after four years in hiding.

Last year, he ran for mayor of Coron town while in detention but lost.

Reyes is also facing 36 counts of graft over the misuse of P1.53 billion in royalties received by Palawan during his term as governor from 2008 to 2009. Ortega’s murder was linked by investigators to his exposé of the anomaly. —WITH A REPORT FROM REDEMPTO D. ANDA

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TAGS: Fertilizer Scam, Mario Joel Reyes
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