Ex-energy chief Petilla, mom off the hook in fertilizer fund scam cases

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2018 03:13 PM

MANILA - The Sandiganbayan 4th Division has dismissed the graft cases of former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and his mother, Palo, Leyte Mayor Remedios Petilla on the ground that it took the Office of the Ombudsman 3 years to file the cases.

In their motions to dismiss, the Petillas argued that it took a longer time to file the cases, more than 12 years since the creation of Task Force Abono which was tasked to investigate the fertilizer fund scam in 2006. 

The 12 years, according to the Petillas, included 7 years and 4 months of fact-finding investigation by TF Abono and another 4 years and 9 months of preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman.

The anti-graft court however only noted the length of the preliminary investigation phase but nevertheless found the argument on inordinate delay meritorious.

In the charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman, Remedios entered into a P3.131 million contract with Castle Rock for the purchase of 350 gallons of liquid fertilizer during her time as Leyte governor, while Jericho, who succeeded his mother in 2004 purchased another 350 gallons for P1.686 million also from Castle Rock. 

“From the timeline above, the court finds the hiatus in the preliminary investigation proceedings that took more than three years from the filing of the complaint to be long drawn-out and unjustified,” the court said in the resolution penned by Associate Reynaldo Cruz, with the concurrence of division Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto.

Cases against co-accused, former provincial officers Rodolfo Badiable and Marilyn Castillo, have also been dismissed. 

The prosecution, in their counter-argument to Petillas' motion, has blamed the delay on the respondents who filed motions for extension, such as co-accused Rogelio Portula who died before the cases were filed in court.

The prosecution also said Jericho Petilla failed to show that he was prejudiced by the alleged delay.

Petilla however said in his motion that the length of time affects the recollection of witnesses. He also cited supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013 which may have destroyed documents from as far back as 2004.

“This is a clear instance where the defense of the accused was impaired due to inordinate delay. The court will not countenance the unfair consequences brought upon the accused because of the inordinate delay in the preliminary investigation before the Ombudsman that violated their right to speedy disposition of these cases,” the court said.