MANILA (UPDATED) - The Office of the Ombudsman has found probable cause to indict Senator Manuel "Lito" Lapid and several others for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.
In a statement, the Ombudsman said a special panel determined that Lapid, Provincial Accountant Benjamin Yuzon and Provincial Treasurer Vergel Yabut committed several violations of the procurement rules after purchasing fertilizer that was "1,000 percent higher than the other fertilizers of the same kind."
The Ombudsman panel cited records showing the provincial government, under Lapid, purchased 3,880 liters of fertilizer at P1,250 per liter from Macro-Micro Fertilizer in 2004.
At that time, Lapid was still governor of Pampanga.
Investigation showed the same kind of fertilizer costs only P120 per liter. The provincial government paid a total of P4,761,818.18 (P4,850,000.00 less net of tax of P88,181.82) for the fertilizer.
"If the Provincial government of Pampanga undertook the purchase through public bidding, it could have purchased a fertilizer of equal or better quality than Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer at a lesser or competitive cost, thus allowing the Province of Pampanga to secure the best commercially available fertilizer product at the lowest price possible," the Ombudsman resolution said.
Also charged in the graft case are incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corporation (MPTC) Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino, and Dexter Alexander Vasquez, Proprietor of D.A. Vazquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources.
Records show that on March 18, 2004, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Pampanga adopted Resolution No. 72 authorizing Lapid to enter in behalf of the province, into an agreement with the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit III (DA RFU III) for the implementation of the Farm Input/Implement Fund/Program (FIFI) in line with the DA’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Program.
Eleven days later, then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante issued a Memorandum requesting the approval of Sub-Allotment Advise (SAA) for P5,000,000.00, covered by Sub-Allotment Release Order (SARO) No. E-04-00164.
On March 30 and April 29, 2004, the DA issued Notices of Transfer Allotment (NTA) authorizing Landbank of the Philippines to transfer P5,000,000.00 to DA RFU III.
On May 12, 2004, the local government of Pampanga received a price quotation from D.A. Vazquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources offering its Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer at P1,250.00 per liter/bottle, inclusive of training and technical assistance.
On May 21, 2004, then Governor Lapid issued a Purchase Request covering the procurement of 3,880 bottles of fertilizer at P1,250.00 per liter/bottle.
Lapid also issued a certification that "there was no suitable fertilizer substitute with the same quality" and that the mode of procurement would be direct purchase from its exclusive distributor, MPTC.
The Ombudsman said Lapid, Yabut and Yuzon conspired with Vasquez, Aquino and Abubakar for the purchase of the fertilizers "in complete disregard of Republic Act No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) and its Implementing Rules and Regulations."
It also noted that the manner and inordinate speed by which the transaction was consummated a mere 12 days- manifested the partiality of Lapid, Yabut and Yuzon to D.A. Vazquez and MPTC.
The criminal cases against Lulu Alingcastre, Leonardo Mendoza, Ramir Flores, Ismael Abubakar, Jr., Alberto Aquino, Arthur Aquino, Paul Albert Aguino, Marites Sto. Domingo, Rolando Dorado and Ade Nasuiton were dismissed for lack of probable cause.
By reason of his death, the charge against Benalfre Galang was also dismissed.
LAPID DENIES CHARGE
Lapid, in a press statement Friday, said he has yet to receive information on the final resolution of the case.
“Ayon sa aking mga abogado, sinagot na namin yung reklamo kung saan hinihingi rin naming tingnang mabuti ng Ombudsman yung kaso, lalo na yung aming depensa na magpapatunay na wala akong nilabag na batas kaugnay ng transaksyong sinasabi nila,” Lapid said.
He added that the case is still with the Office of the Ombudsman undergoing review and study.
“Hiling ko sanang huwag naman nating pangunahan ang mga bagay bagkus asahan natin na masusing titingnan ng mga kinauukulan sa Ombudsman ang bawat panig upang sila’y makapaglabas ng resolusyon na tunay na naaayon sa batas,” Lapid said.
TWO PAMPANGA OFFICIALS DISMISSED
In the related administrative case, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales also ordered the dismissal from the service of Pampanga Provincial Treasurer Vergel Yabut and Pampanga Provincial Accountant Benjamin Yuzon.
"As officials tasked to enforce local taxation and fiscal matters within their local government unit, it is but expected for the Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Accountant to be abreast and knowledgeable to recent developments in fiscal administration, i.e. RA 9184 (Procurement Law) and its IRR-A, and to implement the same within their jurisdiction," Morales said.
The Decision stated that “when they (Yabut and Yuzon) performed the said acts without questioning the propriety of the transaction, much less inquiring whether the same was in accordance with the existing policies and procedures, and by mechanically fixing their signature thereon, they signified their acquiesce to disregard RA 9184.”
The administrative charges against other co-respondents Lulu Alingcastre, Leonardo Mendoza and Ramir Flores were dismissed for lack of merit.