Ex-DA chief may turn state witness in fertilizer scam

Posted at 07/07/10 3:17 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo may turn state witness in a government probe of the P728 million fertilizer scam linked to former President Gloria Arroyo, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III said Wednesday.

Aquino said Lorenzo's testimony could prove crucial in the investigation of the fertilizer fund scam where public funds intended for farmers were allegedly diverted to Arroyo's 2004 election campaign.

"If he is the least guilty or among the least guilty, it's possible that he might turn state witness. We will need witnesses to prove our case," he told reporters at a Malacañang press briefing.

Aquino admitted that he was surprised to see Lorenzo at the party of Boy Montelibano, husband of Maria Montelibano who is part of his transition team, last weekend.

He said he talked to Lorenzo for about 2-3 minutes during the party and that he appealed to the former agriculture chief to reveal all he knows about the scandal. He added that Lorenzo really wanted to go back to the Philippines because of fear for his life.

The President said Lorenzo will not receive kid-glove treatment despite news that the latter's brother, Martin Lorenzo, gave P20 million to Aquino's campaign.

"Walang papaboran. Walang pinangakuan na kid gloves. Pag may madiskubre kami,  e sagutin nila," he said.

Lorenzo, along with Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante, left the country sometime in 2006 to avoid having to testify in the Senate investigation on the fertilizer fund scam.

In his 2007 report, which was adopted by the Senate, then agriculture committee chair Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said Lorenzo was among the signatories of the anomalous transaction.

"In the case of Secretary Lorenzo...the fact remains that he was aware of the program and acted a co-signatory of the transaction," the report states.

The Senate recommended that Lorenzo be charged for plunder and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, but the Ombudsman up to now has not acted on the Senate recommendation or on the complaint filed by various groups.

Atty. Harry Roque Jr., chair of CenterLaw Philippines, earlier said the government should hold Lorenzo accountable for his alleged role in the fertilizer scam. (Click here for exclusive story of ABS-CBN's Lynda Jumilla).