Ombudsman victorious! SC revives P728M fertilizer scam vs Lito Lapid

The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the graft charges against Senator Manuel “Lito” M. Lapid and five others embroiled in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

In a 12-page decision dated August 19 released Thursday, the SC through Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr. ordered that “resolutions (of the Sandiganbayan First Division) dated Sept. 30, 2016 and December 13, 2016, insofar as it dismissed the criminal case against Manuel M. Lapid. Ma. Victoria M. Aquino-Abubakar, Lolita M. Aquino and Dexter Alexander S.D. Vasquez is reversed and set aside”.

The ruling sided with the Office of the Ombudsman which earlier sought the reversal of the Sandiganbayan’s dismissal of the charges against the respondents.

The Sandiganbayan had dismissed the charges after Lapid and subsequently, the other respondents cited a violation of their right to speedy disposition of the charges against them.

“In sum, the delay becomes inordinate only in the presence of arbitrary, vexatious and oppressive actions or inactions that are discernible from the proceedings. No such delay attended the Ombudsman’s proceedings that would warrant the dismissal of the criminal cases against herein respondents,” the court said.

The charges arose from the purchase of 3,880 liters of macro-micro foliar fertilizer under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Program of the Department of Agriculture without public bidding and which investigators later said was at an overpriced rate by at least PHP1,100 per liter.

On May 2, 2011, the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation office – Task Force Abono filed a complaint against several officials of the provincial government of Pampanga, including its then governor, Manuel M. Lapid, as well as officials of Malayan Pacific Trading Corp. (MPTC) and DA Vasque Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources.

The Ombudsman’s Special Panel for Fertilizer Fund Scam on September 18, 2013, found probable cause to charge six out of the 17 original respondents for violation of the Anti- Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for having disregarded the procurement law and its implementing rules in purchasing the fertilizers.

On Nov. 4, 2015, information was filed before the Sandiganbayan against the six respondents including Lapid, provincial officials and private incorporators of the two corporations.

The court said that while Lapid filed a motion to resolve on November 5, 2012, he moved for the dismissal of the case only on January 8, 2019, or when he was about to be arraigned. This motion was merely adopted by Abubakar, Aquino, and Vasquez on Mar. 9, 2016 and a supplemental motion to dismiss dated April 27, 2016.

“Respondents, thus, allowed a considerable time to lapse before they invoked their right to a speedy disposition of their case,” the court said.

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