ALLEGING that the Office of the Ombudsman is sleeping on the case, Sen. Manuel ‘Lito’ Lapid has asked the Sandiganbayan’s First Division to dismiss the graft charge filed against him and five others in connection with the multi-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004.
A 25-page urgent motion filed by his lawyers said: “Wherefore, accused Manuel M. Lapid respectfully prays that this Honorable Court…(d)ismiss this case outright in view of the violation of Senator Lapid’s Constitutional rights to due process, including that of speedy disposition of cases and the right to be fully informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.”
The Ombudsman filed the case before the court in November last year.
The alleged anomaly took place while Lapid was then governor of Pampanga.
Charged with him were former provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon, former provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and the reported suppliers — Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino, incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corporation (MPTC or Malayan), and Dexter Alexander Vasquez, proprietor of D.A. Vasquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources (Vasquez Fertilizers).
Lapid also asked the court to defer the proceedings on the case, including the arraignment set for Thursday until his motion is resolved with finality.
The defense alleged that “The inordinate delay of eight (8) years in the fact-finding investigation, the preliminary investigation, and in the filing of this case violated Senator Lapid’s right to due process and to a speedy disposition of his case.”
Based on the motion, the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) conducted a fact-finding investigation in 2006 and the Ombudsman conducted the preliminary investigation in 2011 upon the FIO’s filing of a complaint.
Lapid claimed he promptly filed his counter-affidavit on June 30, 2011 after the Ombudsman issued an order on May 20 directing the respondents to do so.
“Thereafter, the Office of the Ombudsman slept on the case,” the defense alleged, adding that the Ombudsman did not take any action on the matter after Lapid filed a Motion to Resolve in 2012.
“On 3 June 2014, after two (2) years from the filing of the Motion to Resolve; three years after the filing of the Complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman; and eight (8) years from the fact-finding investigation by the FIO, a Resolution recommending the filing of an Information (charge sheet) against the Respondents…was approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales,” it said.
Lapid filed a motion for reconsideration in July 2014 but was denied.
The defense argued that the delay works to Lapid’s prejudice and affects his ability to fully defend himself in court.
“Witnesses that could have been available by that time that may shed further light on the transactions in question thus exonerating the Accused may no longer be available, if not compromised. Even if they are available, it is a truism that memories are frail and that memories fade. Further, there is the probability of documentary evidence being lost or destroyed,” it said.
The defense added, “As a long-standing public servant of good record, Senator Lapid’s legacy as the former Provincial Governor of Pampanga and as Senator of the Republic stands to be tainted with the timing of the resolution of the criminal complaint against him. Now that his term as a Senator is nearing its end, and is posed to run for another public office, it is with great curiosity that…the criminal complaint once dormant in the Office of the Ombudsman has become suddenly active.”
Lastly, it argued that the case was prematurely filed because there was no finding of disallowance by the Commission on Audit as required by relevant rules before a case may be filed.
According to the Ombudsman, the purchased items were allegedly overpriced by as much as P4.268 million as the fertilizer was sold at P1,250 per liter when its real value was only P150 per liter.
The purchase allegedly did not undergo public bidding as required under the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Further, the Ombudsman alleged that the respondents also violated procurement rules by resorting to direct purchasing “despite the availability of a suitable substitute offered at a much lower price in the locality.”