Sandiganbayan clears ex-QC lawmaker over fertilizer fund scam

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 05 2020 12:47 PM | Updated as of Feb 05 2020 01:04 PM

The Sandiganbayan has cleared a former Quezon City lawmaker of graft and technical malversation charges stemming from the P728 million fertilizer fund scam. ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - Former Quezon City 4th District representative Nanette Castelo-Daza was acquitted by the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division of graft and technical malversation charges stemming from the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

In a decision promulgated Jan. 31, Daza and her co-accused, then Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit No. IV officials Dennis Araullo, Juvylee Obice, Raymundo Braganza, Gover Dino, Dory Iranzo, Abelardo Bragas, Felix Ramos, Ofelia Montilla, Gregorio Sangalang, Balagtas Torres and Remus Villanueva were acquitted after the prosecution failed to sufficiently establish the essential elements of graft and technical malversation.

In the information filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2011, Daza and her co-accused caused the appropriation of P3 million for the purchase of farm equipment without public bidding.

The fund, disbursed in 2004, was part of the P728 million farm input fund under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program of the DA which became the subject of a Senate investigation based on a Commission on Audit report.

Ex-Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante, the alleged mastermind of the scam, earlier admitted granting requests of at least three representatives of non-agricultural congressional districts in Metro Manila. However, he clarified that funds were released as part of the government's assistance for "urban agricultural" projects within the lawmakers' constituencies.

In its decision, the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division noted that the farm equipment were invented, manufactured and exclusively distributed by LCV Design and Fabrication Corporation.

The court added that there was no unwarranted benefit on the part of the government as the equipment cannot be bought from other sources and the similar products were shown to be different from the ones procured.

“In conclusion, the prosecution failed to prove the essential element of the offense - that the conduct of a public bidding was required in this procurement and that the negotiated procurement was the wrong mode of procurement,” the court said in the decision penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi, with the concurrence of Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera, Jr. and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna.

On the technical malversation case, the court said that it was not proven that a public fund which has been appropriated by law was used other than that for which such fund has been appropriated.

The prosecution had argued during trial that the equipment were not part of the program and that Quezon City is not covered by the regional office of the DA.

“In this case, there is no proof presented of the specific law or ordinance appropriating the fund,” the court said.

Aside from the acquittal of the accused, the court also ordered the release of their bail bonds as well as the lifting of the hold departure orders issued against them.