Sandiganbayan to proceed with fertilizer fund scam case

Carolyn Bonquin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 04 2016 11:34 PM

MANILA - After five years since the indictment of former Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante, the Sandiganbayan will proceed on determining probable cause to charge him for plunder over the P723-million fertilizer fund scam.

This, after the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division issued a resolution allowing amendments on the charge sheet, excluding whistle-blower Jose Barredo from the case and admitting him as one of the prosecutions witnesses.

Barredo was one of the supposed "runners" who delivered kickbacks to public officials. 

In return, the Ombudsman will present Barredo as a state witness to possibly strengthen the plunder charge against Bolante and seven other accused. 

History of the case

The Ombudsman's request to amend the charge came after the Sandiganbayan found that the prosecution's pieces of evidence were weak to put Bolante on trial.

The plunder case filed in 2011 accused Bolante of pocketing P265.642 million from the P723 million fertilizer funds released under the Farm Input Farm Implement Program (FIFIP) in 2004. 

Also named conspirators were former DA secretary Luis Ramon "Chito" Lorenzo, former DA assistant secretary Ibatra Poliquit and private individuals Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo and Leonicia Marco-Llarena.

The Ombudsman alleged that Bolante conspired with Lorenzo and Poliquit in siphoning public funds after purchasing overpriced liquid fertilizers through Paule, Araos, Flordeliza, Aytona, and Llanera.

DA allegedly allocated P1,500 for every liter of fertilizer, when the supplier was only paid P150.

The determination of probable cause needed for the issuance of a warrant of arrest took a while after the respondents filed separate motions.

In August 15, 2014, the Sandiganbayan issued a resolution stating that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Bolante may be tried for plunder after pocketing money from the scam. 

The court was poised to dismiss the case, but instead gave the Ombudsman 60 days to file additional evidence to strengthen the case.

"The Court could already order the dismissal of the present case. However, it cannot close its eyes to the glaring fraud and irregularity in the release and utilization of the P723 Million Fertilizer Funds," the Sandiganbayan stated in its 2014 resolution.

The Ombudsman filed an amended charge sheet on December 22, 2014, which excluded Barredo from the plunder case and asked to include in as witness.

READ: Ex-congressman seeks reinvestigation of fertilizer fund case

Barredo as witness

Before standing as the prosecution's state witness, Barredo already testified during the senate's inquiry on the fertilizer fund scam.

On September 15, 2014, he personally delivered a letter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, expressing interest in providing additional information in exchange of clearing him from the case. 

Barredo executed a judicial affidavit submitted to the Sandiganbayan on December 5, 2014. 

In his sworn statement, Barredo admitted working with Aytona, Paule, Llanera and Araos since 1990s. Barredo was a taxi driver before Aytona offered him a job.

In January 2004, before the May elections, Aytona recruited him to work on a "business project that involved selling fertilizer to [Local Government Units] and Congressmen with funding from the Department of Agriculture."

Barredo became a "runner" who met and told politicians about their business operation. He also processed the memorandum of agreement to the DA regional directors and to Bolante's office "to expedite the farm inputs and implements program." He also delivered fertilizers to Regional Field Units to show on paper that the funds were properly liquidated.

Barredo insisted not knowing that their operations were irregular, adding he only found that the P1,500 per bottle of fertilizers charged were overpriced after Melvin Matium, a FESHAN technician told him that a one-liter liquid fertilizer bottle originally costs P350. The price was further reduced to P150 after diluting liquid fertilizers with water. 

"The scheme was to release the funds to the politicians before the May 2004 Elections for campaign expenses," Barredo stated in his judicial affidavit. "The liquid fertilizer was overpriced there was a large profit for everyone involved."

Barredo admitted personally delivering kickbacks to politicians, and named 15 governors and congressmen involved in the scam.