MANILA - A decade since the Senate investigated the alleged massive misuse of fertilizer funds under the Arroyo administration, the Sandiganbayan on Monday cleared former Department of Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante of plunder over the P723-million fertilizer fund scam.
In a decision promulgated on November 28, 2016, the Sandiganbayan Special 2nd Division dropped the case after state prosecutors failed to provide evidence that will link Bolante to plunder activities.
This, despite a chance given to prosecution to amend the charge sheet. Whistle-blower Jose Barredo was excluded from the case, and was instead admitted as prosecution witness.
Barredo, a supposed "runner" who delivered kickbacks to public officials, submitted a 20-page Judicial Affidavit. But the Sandiganbayan found his testimony inadequate to prove plunder.
"All that is essentially stated by Barredo is the modus operandi of the scam, the persons who were offered, or had received, and how the 'SOP' (Standard Operating Procedure) or commissions were distributed," the Sandiganbayan ruling read.
"However, the personalities mentioned by Barredo as the recipients of the 'SOP' or commissions are either local officials who had fund allotments from the DA or DA regional directors, and none of them are even charged in this case as co-conspirators of Bolante or of the other accused."
The Sandiganbayan also pointed out Bolante was the "central key player" in the case. But there was no proof that he acquired ill-gotten wealth from the fertilizer fund scam.
"No material representation, other than the release of the funds, could be shown attributable to accused Bolante," the decision read.
The fund scam issue broke out in 2004 after Senator Panfilo Lacson accused then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of buying votes using fertilizer funds.
After separate investigations by the Senate and the Office of the Ombudsman over the next years, a plunder case was filed in 2011.
State prosecutors 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, Poliquit in siphoning public funds after purchasing overpriced liquid fertilizers through Paule, Araos, Flordeliza, Aytona and Llanera.
The DA allegedly allocated P1,500 for every liter of fertilizer, when the supplier was only paid P150.
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 him as witness.
On August 2016, the Sandiganbayan accepted the amended charge sheet, before was junked four months after.