The Sandiganbayan’s Special Second Division has thrown out a plunder case filed in 2011 against former Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Luis “Chito” Lorenzo Jr., former Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante, former Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and several others in connection with a fertilizer fund scam.
In a ruling dated November 28, the court dismissed the case for lack of probable cause.
“After a judicious review of the records, we find, as the justices who formerly composed the Second Division did, that there is no probable cause to hold the accused for trial for the crime of plunder, ” the anti-graft court said.
In 2014, the court’s Second Division said the Office of the Ombudsman failed to substantiate how the funds eventually found their way to Bolante.
It ordered prosecutors to submit additional evidence, saying it could already order the dismissal of the case but that it “cannot close its eyes to the glaring badges of fraud and irregularity in the release and utilization of the P723 million fertilizer funds.”
The prosecutors then sought an amendment of the Information (charge sheet) in 2015 to drop Jose Barredo Jr. as a respondent, as they said his testimony “would be vital and indispensable for the prosecution of the instant case.”
In a resolution issued in July, the court granted the prosecutors’ plea and admitted the amended information excluding Barredo from the case.
Any determination of probable cause would have to be based on such amended charge sheet, it said.
“The central key player in this case is none other than Bolante. However, no material participation, other than the release of the funds, could be shown to be attributable to accused Bolante,” the court said.
“Just like the previous finding of this court in the original Information that there is no probable cause to hold the accused liable for the crime of plunder, we reiterate that even the amended Information and the judicial affidavit of Barredo did not suffice to find the existence of probable cause against any of the accused for the crime of plunder,” it added.
It was referring to Barredo, who was a Senate witness on the fertilizer fund scam and who was among those initially charged along with Lorenzo, Bolante and Poliquit.
The others were Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona and Leonicia Marco-Llarena.
The ruling was signed by Associate Justice Samuel Martires, who leads the court’s Second Division, and Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Geraldine Faith Econg.
Meanwhile, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on Monday said she is yet to see the ruling.
“But at all events, if we can make a question of law out of it or if we feel that there’s a grave abuse of discretion, if and when our motion for reconsideration should be denied, then we can raise it up to the Supreme Court,” Morales told reporters in an interview in Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) after the signing of an agreement with the Civil Service Commission on a complaints referral system.
When asked on the other unrelated cases dismissed by the Sandiganbayan this year, the Ombudsman said, “If there’s ground to question it, why not, … ‘Di naman pwedeng mag-give up na lang kami [We can’t just give up] .”