MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Among the scandals and controversies that the newly installed Aquino administration wants to revisit is the P728 million fertilizer scam, where public funds intended for farmers were allegedly diverted to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's 2004 election campaign.
Just days after President Aquino ordered an investigation into corruption allegations by a still-to-be-created "truth commission," former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo was spotted last Saturday night at a party of Aquino-Binay supporters.
Like his Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante, who was tagged by the Senate as the architect of the fertilizer scam, Lorenzo left the country sometime in 2006 to avoid having to testify in the Senate investigation and has since returned.
Two sources who were present at the Saturday night party told ABS-CBN News Lorenzo had a brief opportunity to talk with Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
With Lorenzo's return comes this challenge from those who filed complaints on the fertilizer scam, such as Atty. Harry Roque Jr., chair of CenterLaw Philippines.
"Siguro ang pinakamalaking tulong na magagawa niya ay isiwalat ang nalalaman niya sa fertilizer scam. Pangalawa, kinakailangang niyang linisin ang kanyang pangalan dahil nakasaad pa rin sa Senate report na isa siya sa mga nakinabang dito sa fertilizer scam, at isa rin siya sa mga lumabag sa ating mga batas," Roque said.
In an interview with ANC's The Rundown on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima welcomed the news that Lorenzo, a co-accused in the fertilizer fund scam, is back in the country.
"It's a welcome development that we hear the potential witness being in town. It's right timing. But the availability of witness is one thing, the willingness of witness to cooperate is another," De Lima said.
Senate recommends plunder vs Lorenzo
In his 2007 report, which was adopted by the Senate, then agriculture committee chair Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said Lorenzo was among the signatories of the anomalous transaction.
"In the case of Secretary Lorenzo...the fact remains that he was aware of the program and acted a co-signatory of the transaction," the report states. "They must be charged for violating the law on plunder and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act."
The Senate recommended that Lorenzo be charged for plunder and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, but the Ombudsman up to now has not acted on the Senate recommendation or on the complaint filed by various groups.
Lorenzos donated P20-M to Aquino
Roque hopes the government will hold Lorenzo accountable for his alleged role in the fertilizer scam, notwithstanding the fact that Lorenzo's brother, Martin, was a major contributor to President Aquino's campaign.
"Ito'y nang hindi naman isipin ng ating mga mamamayan na palibhasa nagbigay ang kapatid niya ng P20 million, ay tuluyan nang nawalan ng pananagutan itong si Cito Lorenzo," Roque said.
ABS-CBN News tried to contact Lorenzo through people close to him to no avail.
Meanwhile, Malacañang welcomes Lorenzo's return and hopes he would shed light on the fertilizer scam if and when asked by the "truth commission."
"We welcome Mr. Lorenzo's return and hope he can shed light on the fertilizer scam, if and when asked to give testimony to the truth commission," Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a text message.