MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) Former Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who headed the Senate probe in 2006 into the fertilizer fund scam, said the filing of charges against Secretary Luis 'Cito' Lorenzo, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante and several others could be a ploy of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to counter the impeachment case against her before the Senate.
"It's only now after 6 years or so that they were forced to undertake this formal presentation to the Sandiganbayan...It's a ploy, maybe a legal strategy, that they have finally addressed the issue after 6 or 7 years,” Magsaysay told ANC.
With the new charges, Magsaysay warned of possible legal complications on the impeachment case stemming from the Ombudsman's alleged inaction.
“I think they're trying to destroy the impending impeachment when the Congress comes back after the Holy Week. So we have to be guarded on this, especially Sorsogon Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. and his young people who would like to prosecute in the Senate because this could form some kind of legal complications,” he said.
He added the Ombudsman was expected to conduct an investigation on the issue on the basis of a Senate report but there was no action on the matter.
The Ombudsman filed the plunder charges after several complaints were raised based on the findings of the Commission on Audit on the P728 million "GMA Farm Input Fund."
Aside from Lorenzo and Bolante, former Department of Agriculture (DA) Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and private respondents Jaime Eonzon Puale, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Maritess Aytoina, Jose Barredo and Leonica Marco-Llarena will also face plunder charges.
Up for dismissal?
Meanwhile, the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) expressed concern that because of the long delay of the filing, the cases may be designed to be dismissed by the Sandiganbayan.
“The field investigation report of Task Force Abono recommending preliminary investigation against Bolante et al were accomplished as early as June 2006 or nearly five years ago. The preliminary investigation should have commenced immediately and the filing of cases at the Sandiganbayan should have followed suit quickly,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“If five years isn’t inordinate delay, then what is? The belated filing of cases vs Bolante et al only strengthens the impeachment case against Gutierrez. What was the difference between the evidence the Ombudsman had in 2006 and the evidence they have now, that it is only now that they decided to file plunder raps against Bolante and others?” Reyes said.
Bayan is also concerned that the case filed before the Sandiganbayan was weak and that the only reason it was filed was so the Ombudsman can establish a defense against the impeachment against her.
“We are certainly not convinced that the Ombudsman has had a change of heart. We are not just about to give her the benefit of the doubt. There is danger that the case filed was weak and was filed only as a defense in the impeachment. We have to see if the complaint is designed to be dismissed,” Reyes said.
“We won’t be surprised if the respondents use the inordinate delay by the Ombudsman as basis for asking for the dismissal of the complaint, “ he added.
Reyes also said the recent developments highlight the fact that the Ombudsman’s inaction on the fertilizer fund scam is the strongest among the cases in the impeachment trial.
“She’s going all out for her defense and really focusing on the fertilizer fund scam because it is the strongest case and it is the one where [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] will be implicated,” Reyes said. -- With ANC