Ombudsman asked: What happened to fertilizer fund scam?

Posted at 08/28/2014 3:18 PM | Updated as of 08/28/2014 6:33 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate challenged the Office of the Ombudsman to show what it has done in the prosecution of the fertilizer fund scam case at the Sandiganbayan.

“Ano ba ang ginawa ng Ombudsman?” he asked.

This was after the anti-graft court gave the panel 60 days to obtain more evidence as it did not find any probable cause against former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo and Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante for plunder.

In a 46-page resolution promulgated last August 15, the anti-graft court's second division said: "All told, the evidence so far presented by the prosecution fails to establish the existence of probable cause that accused Bolante, by himself or with the help of his co-accused, amassed, accumulated, and/or acquired ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount of at least 50 million pesos."

The court was referring to former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, tagged by a Senate investigation as the "architect" in the diversion of agricultural funds to the 2004 election campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Also charged with plunder were former Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, former Agriculture Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and six other private individuals.

Zarate said the court’s order is a challenge to the Ombudsman, adding that the many investigations conducted on the matter seem to have gone to waste.

The scam was investigated at the Senate where a lot of pieces of evidence were generated.

He said this would be a test of the administration’s sincerity in going after the corrupt.

While neither former President Gloria Arroyo nor her husband, Mike, have been charged in the case, the fertilizer fund scam case is one of the many scams attributed to the Arroyo administration.

The Arroyos have also been linked to the NBN-ZTE deal.

It was the alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund that eventually led to the detention of Arroyo.

Her husband, on the other hand, faces a separate graft charge for the alleged sale of second hand choppers to the Philippine National Police.

Zarate noted there have been zero convictions so far, as he cast doubts on the sincerity of the government’s anti-corruption campaign.

'RULING NOT SUPRISING'

Lorenzo's lawyer, meanwhile, welcomed the Sandiganbayan ruling.

"The finding of the Sandiganbayan that there is insufficient evidence to support probable cause against Sec. Cito Lorenzo is based on the evidence presented on record and the applicable law," Atty. Ayo Bautista said in a statement.

"It is not at all surprising," Bautista said. "From the very start, we have maintained that Sec. Cito Lorenzo is innocent of the crime of plunder. Now, the sandiganbayan has confirmed it."