Ex-DA chief hits govt move to beef up plunder case vs him

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Former Department of Agriculture [DA] Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo has questioned an order of the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division for state lawyers to show additional proof to beef up a plunder case against him, as well as his then Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante in connection with the P700-million fertilizer fund scam.

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Lorenzo said the prosecution can only be given five days to do so in case the court doubts the existence of probable cause but he argued that the court was not in doubt when it “unequivocally” and “categorically” found that government lawyers failed to establish probable cause.

“With all due respect, this Honorable Court erred in giving the Office of the Ombudsman the aforesaid 60-day period,” his appeal read.

Earlier, the court said in a resolution that it “could already order the dismissal of the present case. However, it cannot close its eyes to the glaring badges of fraud and irregularity in the release and utilization” of the fertilizer funds.

But Lorenzo said it was “not proper” for the court to give prosecutors a fresh period to present more evidence on this ground.

“If there is indeed fraud and irregularity, the proper course of action for the prosecution would be to file cases appropriate to the said fraud and irregularity, and not to insist on ill-conceived and baseless plunder charge,” his motion for partial reconsideration said.

He added that the Office of the Ombudsman had more than ample opportunity to establish probable cause in the case of plunder from the time of the preliminary investigation (2008 to 2011) and the years his pleadings have become ripe for resolution at the Sandiganbayan, noting that the Office of the Ombudsman had access to the Commission on Audit’s report and Senate blue ribbon committee’s report.

“It does not need, and certainly does not deserve, additional 60 days to fish for ‘additional evidence,’” Lorenzo said.

The case had been attended with so much delay, he added, that prolonging it further would violate his constitutional rights particularly citing the right to speedy disposition of cases.

“It has been four long years [from the start of the preliminary investigation]since accused Lorenzo’s name was unjustifiably sullied by his inclusion in these proceedings. That he was ‘living under a cloud of anxiety, suspicion, and hostility’,” he pleaded.

The defense said all Lorenzo did was issue a memorandum dated March 16, 2004 delegating then-Undersecretary Bolante to evaluate and approve all requests for fund assistance under the FIFIP program with a proviso that “all fund releases shall be subject to usual accounting and auditing rules and procedures.”

“The case must be dismissed and it must be dismissed now,” the former Agriculture chief said,

FIFIP is the Farm Input Farm Implement Project (FIFIP) under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Program of the Department of Agriculture.

The court said documents submitted by the prosecutors revealed irregularities in the distribution of funds but were not able to show how the allegedly ill-gotten wealth landed in respondents’ hands.

But the prosecutors said there was no need to establish that allegedly ill-gotten wealth had been found in the hands of the accused government official.

Requiring the Ombudsman to do so is a “grave error,” they said in their appeal against the court resolution.

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