MANILA, Philippines - Politicians and Department of Agriculture (DA) officials are now playing a blame game over the alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Politicians charged with graft and technical malversation before the Sandiganbayan over the case accused DA officials as the ones responsible for mishandling the money.
DA officials, on the other hand, claim that they simply acted in good faith by following orders from their superiors.
In separate motions filed before the graft court, Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes and former Batangas Rep. Oscar Gozos asked the Sandiganbayan First Division to defer proceedings, citing pendency of their motions for reconsideration at the Office of the Ombudsman.
Both claimed the cases against them were filed prematurely as they were not allegedly given the opportunity to exhaust available legal means to challenge the indictment.
The Ombudsman claimed that fertilizer fund proponent governors and congressmen were the ones who "recommended the purchase" of tornado chippers/shredders from LCV Design and Fabrication Corp., which were bought without public bidding and were later on declared by the Commission on Audit to be overpriced.
In her May 23 consolidated motion for reconsideration submitted to the Ombudsman, Reyes said she simply submitted a request to DA Region IV Director Dennis Araullo for "machine/equipment…that can convert agriculture waste into organic fertilizers."
"The funds that were used for the purchase of the machines/equipment in question were not under her administration, but of the DA. These funds remained with and were disbursed directly to the supplier/s by the DA," she said.
Reyes also argued that she left it to the DA to decide which machines to purchase on behalf of the province and her mention of "LCV Design and Fabrication" in her letter was "merely descriptive of the kinds of machine that the province wanted to avail of."
"By admission, no direct evidence of conspiracy was found or established. The best that the complainant can come up with is an alleged claim that circumstantial evidence exists to prove conspiracy. However, this so-called circumstantial evidence is based on pure speculation and conjecture," she said.
Graft investigators said Marinduque received P5 million from the fertilizer fund program.
Gozos, meanwhile, claimed that his position as congressman in 2004 was "too far away from the cooking pot as to be part of those who hatched and cooked the alleged conspiracy to commit the crimes charged."
He also said the funds were never placed under his custody but "within the exclusive control and disposition of the Department of Agriculture."
Gozos argued that his request-letter to DA Region IV Director Araullo was proof that the disbursement "was subject to approval of another authority or another office."
"Respondent Gozos is not an employee of the DA who approved and disbursed the P3 million intended for the 4th District of Batangas. Respondent was a mere passive element in the procurement process, which was entirely undertaken by the DA," defense lawyers Joel Bodegon and Toni Joy Verano said.
Meanwhile, DA regional officials contend they merely acted in good faith in approving the requests of proponents congressmen and governors for the purchase of farm implements.
In their joint motion for reinvestigation, Araullo; accountant Juvylee C. Obice; DA regional accountant Raymundo E. Braganza; cashier Lourdes T. Imperial; inspection officer Abelardo Bragas; and bids and awards committee member Felix Ramos and Ofelia Montilla they simply obeyed the "intent and purpose of the Advice of Sub-Allotment (ASA)" from their superiors in the agency.
"Movants simply relied in good faith on the regularity of the three ASA's in question and the acts of their superiors from the DA Central Office, particularly, then DA Secretary (Luis Ramon) Lorenzo, then Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, then Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and then Assistant Secretary Belinda Gonzales who affixed their signatures in the relevant documents," they said.
They added that they did not have any choice but to comply with recommendations of the local politicians who requested for the chipper/shredder, for fear of being penalized.
"(Movants) could not, as they did not in fact, contradict the specifications, prescriptions, intents and purposes of the proponent high ranking elective public officials for otherwise they would be charged of insubordination and blamed for not complying," the regional officials added.
They also belied the claim of governors and Congress members that the letters were mere requests.
"It must be pointed out that the four proponent high-ranking elective local officials concerned not only initiated, endorsed, and proposed the purchase of the said items but they also made the specific request by prescribing what to buy, at what quantity, from whom and for what price as unambiguously stated in their respective letters to the DA RFU IV," they pointed out.
"The active and major involvement or participation of the proponents in the transactions in question started from their conceptualization to their consummation, that is, 'from womb to tomb,' so to say. In short, only the high-ranking elective local officials must be held liable in the instant and other related cases," they said.