Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ombudsman Raps Scammers: The Manila Times

MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday filed criminal charges against former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo Jr, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante and many other former Agriculture officials and staff in connection with an alleged multimillion scam in 2004, The Manila Times reported.

It said the charges came after the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman recommended that the alleged scam involving P728 million in fertilizer funds was ripe for formal preliminary investigation after it found enough evidence to conduct a formal probe.

Lorenzo and Bolante were charged with violation of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (malversation of public funds or property) and Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales and Emma Gonzales were charged with violation of Article 220 of the penal code (technical malversation) and Sections 3 (e) and (g) of RA 3019.

In the Ombudsman documents, Bolante was also charged with violation of Article 171 of the code (falsification by public officer).

With Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales, Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and Regional Directors Reinerio Belarmino Jr., Gumersindo Lasam, Cesar Rodriguez, Dennis Araullo, Ricardo Oblena, Leo Caneda, Oscar Parawan, Roger Chio, Sumail Sekak and Eduardo Lecciones, Jr., he was also charged with violation of Section 3(a) of RA 3019.

With Jaime Leonzon Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona and Jose Barredo, the former Agriculture undersecretary was further charged with violation of Section 3(b) of RA 3019.

With Leonicia Marco-Llarena, Deonilla Misola-Gregorio and Redentor Antolin, Bolante was charged with violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019.

Belinda Gonzales, Belarmino, Lasam, Rodriguez, Araullo, Oblena, Caneda, Parawan, Chio, Sekak and Lecciones were charged with violation of Paragraphs A.2 (neglect of duty), A.3 (grave misconduct) and C.3 (reasonable office rules and regulations) and Section 52 of Resolution 991936 entitled “Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.”

Lorenzo was charged with allegedly giving Bolante a free hand in the disposition of the fertilizer funds and, now that the former Agriculture chief is back in the country, Lorenzo also will be summoned to answer the same charge.

Bolante was charged for having prepared a list of recipients of the fertilizer funds in farming zones but who ended up not receiving such funds.

The regional directors were included as respondents for having obeyed Bolante’s orders and for having preferred suppliers.

Once the criminal charges are formally filed, the Central Records Division will forward records of the case to the Preliminary Investigation Administrative Adjudication and Monitoring Office, which will consolidate the supplemental complaint with records of the initial complaint and will then be referred to a special panel for the conduct of further preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication.

Based on the earlier complaint filed by Task Force Abono (abono means fertilizer) of the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman, charged with technical malversation, violation of Sectionx 3(e) and (g) of RA 3019 and for dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service under Section 46, Chapter 7, Title I, Book V of Executive Order 292 (Administrative Code of 1987) were Araullo, Carmencita Reyes, Balagtas Torres, Juvylee Obice, Rodolfo Guieb, Mari Paz Jazmine Cabucol, Raymundo Braganza, Abelardo Bragas, Felix Ramos, Ofelia Montilla and Gregorio Sangalang.

Nanette Daza, Federico Sandoval 2nd and Oscar Gozos were also charged with technical malversation and violation of Sections 3(e) and (g) of RA 3019.

Private Respondents Linus Villanueva and Remus Villanueva, Phydias Bañez, Fernando Gallarte and Frederico Quevedo were charged with violation of Sections 3 (e) and (g) of RA 3019.

Bolante and Poliquit were charged with technical malversation and violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019.
Poliquit was also charged for dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The special panel looking into the alleged fertilizer fund scam was almost done with its preliminary investigation when the Senate blue-ribbon committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon submitted its report on its investigation of the alleged scam.

Task Force Abono, finding the Senate findings material to its own investigation, suspended the preliminary probe of the initial complaint.

According to Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus, the task force is continuing its fact-finding investigation of the alleged fertilizer fund scam to identify others who may also be involved or who may be held liable for plunder, a non-bailable offense.

Even if he wanted to disclose his alleged participation and all that he knew in connection with the alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam, Lorenzo, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, could not be simply admitted as “state witness.”

“Immunity is not automatic. It’s not that easy. There is process in immunity,” de Lima told reporters during a chance interview also on Friday.

Under Section 10 of Republic Act (RA) 6981, or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, one may apply to become a state witness if he or she “has participated in the commission of a crime and desires to be a witness for the State.”

If qualified, one may be admitted if he or she “does not appear to be most guilty.” The law stipulates five other requirements before one is admitted to the Witness Protection Program.

Loenzo and Bolante are the prime suspects in the alleged scam, which allegedly saw the P728 million diverted to the 2004 election campaign of then President Gloria Arroyo.

Former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., however, earlier this week said that Lorenzo, Bolante and other officials and staff of the Agriculture department should be charged with plunder.

Magsaysay added that a joint investigation in 2005 to 2006 by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the blue-ribbon committee showed that Lorenzo was a “principal” in the alleged scam.

Lorenzo, who returned recently after years of exile in the United States to avoid testifying in the Senate investigation, also earlier said that he was willing to testify and reveal all about the alleged scam. He pointed out that he did not personally benefit from the fertilizer funds. (Jomar Canlas and William Depasupil)


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