The Sandiganbayan’s First Division granted Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid permission to travel abroad to Germany.
Lapid, who is facing a graft charge in connection with the multimillion fertilizer fund scam in 2004, pleaded not guilty during his “conditional” arraignment.
He earlier asked the anti-graft court to let him travel to Germany from March 7 to 15 saying that he was invited, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Tourism, to participate in the Internationale Tourismus Borse in Berlin.
Lapid said that his attendance “is important, if not indispensable, as participants from over 180 countries shall be in attendance. This event shall be the Philippines’ platform to promote the country as a prime tourist spot.”
In granting his request over the prosecution’s objection, the court required him to pay a P30,000 travel bond.
Last November, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division found ground to proceed to trial and scheduled his arraignment last month.
But the arraignment was reset to March 10 pending resolution of a motion Lapid filed seeking the dismissal of the case on the ground of inordinate delay of eight years that it allegedly took the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and file the charge against him in court.
Aside from Lapid, who was the outgoing Pampanga Governor when the alleged anomaly took place, also charged were former provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon, former provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and the alleged 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).
According to the Ombudsman, the purchased items were 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.
The Ombudsman claimed 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.”
After the defendant returns to the country, a conditional arraignment is deemed withdrawn and he or she must undergo the regular arraignment.