Court started again plunder case vs Lorenzo, Bolante over P728M fertilizer fund scam
The Sandiganbayan has granted the prosecution’s motion to amend the plunder information of former Agriculture secretary Luis Ramon “Chito” Lorenzo and his undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc Joc” Bolante, thus reviving the plunder case against the two officials over the P728 million fertilizer fund scam. In its resolution dated July 21, the anti-graft court Second Division effectively granted the prosecution’s motion to drop Jose Barredo Jr. as an accused, paving the way for him to testify in court against the two Cabinet officials of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “The Court recognizes that the right to determine who to prosecute is essentially an executive function, and not a judicial one,” the court said in its resolution penned by Associate Justice Napoleon Inoturan. Division chairperson Associate Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos and Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo concurred with the ruling. “The court grants leave to the prosecution’s motion with leave of court to admit the amended information including Jose Barredo Jr. as one of the accused, and admits the said amended information,” the court added. Lorenzo and Bolante and their co-accused are charged for plunder for allegedly accumulating P265.6 million kickbacks from the P723 million fertilizer funds under the Farm Input Farm Implement Program of the Department of Agriculture under the Arroyo administration. Plunder, a criminal charge of earning at least P50-million in ill-gotten wealth, is a non-bailable offense. Barredo was initially charged for plunder as one of the alleged “runners” in striking a deal with local officials and delivering the kickbacks. But the Ombudsman prosecutors said Barredo is not the most guilty, and that his testimony is vital in the case.
The prosecutors urged the court to admit Barredo’s December 2014 testimony as new evidence in a bid to revive the case that was dismissed for lack of probable cause. The plunder case lodged against Bolante and Lorenzo stemmed from the alleged racket of paying off lawmakers, governors and mayors using the P728 million fertilizer funds sourced from the Farm Input-Farm Implement program in 2004. The said funds were said to have been diverted to Arroyo’s campaign kitty that year to pay off favored local officials in an alleged vote-buying scheme.
The accused in the plunder case were charged of “criminally amassing” P265.6 million by misappropriating funds amounting to P56.6 million, overpricing the transactions to gain P56 million, and conniving with suppliers to make a profit of another P153 million. The case was filed before the Sandiganbayan in July 2011, but the court found no probable cause in the case three years later or on Aug. 2014. The court has also asked the Ombudsman to provide additional evidence. In his latest affidavit, Barredo said he was sent as “runner” to deal with officials in signing the memoranda of agreement for the fertilizer deals and delivering these to the agriculture department where Bolante was said to have expedited the release of the funds.
Barredo has also implicated several other politicians previously not part of the plunder case in his alleged deals. He has cited a department memorandum signed by Lorenzo that was said to have fast tracked the implementation of the agriculture program. Barredo, a private fertilizer supplier, had expressed willingness to help the Ombudsman when the court in Aug. 2014 found no probable cause to charge all the accused for plunder. He has also said he would like to be admitted as state witness. Barredo was said to be the runner for private supplier Marites Aytona, who fronted for Agriculture Undersecretary Bolante. Bolante, meanwhile, has cleared former president now Pangasinan lawmaker Arroyo in the scam, saying the release of the funds need not be approved by the president.