'Cito Lorenzo was possible witness in Merci impeach trial'

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 02 2011 05:14 PM | Updated as of May 03 2011 06:48 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Had the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez proceeded, it may have had as a major witness former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo on the article considering the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas, Jr. identified Lorenzo as a potential witness in the imepachment trial aborted by Gutierrez’s resignation last Friday.

Tupas said Lorenzo may even possibly link former President and now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the fertilizer fund scam.

The congressman said members of the prosecution team had been talking to Lorenzo to testify.

“We had initial communication with former secretary Cito Lorenzo. It wasn't sure yet. There was some kind of communication. We were informed he was willing, considering testifying,” he told reporters.

Aside from Lorenzo, the Ombudsman’s own people considered testifying against her.

“From the time the impeachment was transmitted and until the resignation of the Ombudsman on April 29, we were able to talk to a lot of potential witnesses. One senior official of the Office of the Ombudsman (and) 2 senior officials of the Office of the Special Prosecutor signified willingness to testify," he said.

Tupas, however, clarified that resigned Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni was not one of the witnesses. “Some members of the prosecution team were also talking to investigators with personal knowledge," he said.

Right now, the House Justice Committee is deciding what to do with the data and witnesses they prepared for the trial.

Lorenzo's friends

Some of Lorenzo's friends, meanwhile, came to his defense after he was linked to the fertilizer fund scandal.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay confirmed Lorenzo is in the Philippines. "The case is being initiated, and might as well appeal to those who know of what actually happened, those who have evidence to prove it so that the ultimate justice will prevail," he said.

Gawad Kalinga chairman Tony Meloto described Lorenzo as a patriot. "He came to the United States to really express love for our country. By working also with Gawad Kalinga and supporting a lot of our doctors and nurses, showing them appreciation for their heroism, also mentoring a lot of young people in Washington DC where he resided," he said.

Greg Macabenta, chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, said that while he does not know much about the fertilizer scam, he considers Lorenzo's subordinate, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, a "big Jocjoc."

"I think they should throw him in jail," he said of Bolante. With a report from Bev Llorente, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau