MANILA - The Sandiganbayan did not find probable cause to charge former agriculture officials with plunder over the P723 million fertilizer fund scam.
In a 46-page resolution promulgated last August 15, the anti-graft court's second division said: "All told, the evidence so far presented by the prosecution fails to establish the existence of probable cause that accused Bolante, by himself or with the help of his co-accused, amassed, accumulated, and/or acquired ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount of at least 50 million pesos."
The court was referring to former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, tagged by a Senate investigation as the "architect" in the diversion of agricultural funds to the 2004 election campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Also charged with plunder were former Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, former Agriculture Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and six other private individuals.
However, instead of throwing out the plunder case, the court said it was giving the Ombudsman 60 days to submit evidence on how Bolante -- by himself or in conspiracy with his co-accused -- amassed the P723 million representing funds intended for farmers.
The court said it "cannot close its eyes to the glaring badges of fraud and irregularity in the glaring release and utilization of the 723 million peso Fertilizer Funds."
The court said its action was pursuant to Section 6, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court.
But a lawyer for one of the accused said the court's action was "unusual" because the Rules of Court allows only 5 days for submission of additional evidence.
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Napoleon Inoturan and concurred in by Associate Justices Teresita Diaz-Baldos and Alexander Gesmundo.