THE Sandiganbayan’s First Division has reset to March 10 the arraignment of Sen. Manuel ‘Lito’ Lapid over a graft charge he is facing in connection with the multi-million peso fertilizer fund scam in 2004.
The arraignment, originally set for Thursday, was moved pending resolution of an urgent motion filed by his lawyers on Monday seeking the dismissal of the case filed against him.
Lapid’s lawyers argued 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.”
The court gave the prosecution 15 days within which to file its comment on Lapid’s motion while the senator’s camp was given five days to reply.
The graft case was filed by the Ombudsman in November last year, in connection with the anomaly allegedly committed while Lapid was then governor of Pampanga.
In asking the court to dismiss the case, the defense said Senator Lapid’s right to due process and to a speedy disposition of his case was violated by the inordinate delay in investigating his case.
It said that the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) conducted a fact-finding investigation in 2006 and the preliminary investigation in 2011 upon the FIO’s filing of a complaint.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the resolution recommending the filing of the case before the Sandiganbayan on June 3, 2014, prompting Lapid to file a motion for reconsideration, but it was junked by the Ombudsman.
Also charged with Lapid 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 allegedly overpriced by as much as P4.3 million as the fertilizer was sold at P1,250 per liter when its real value was only P150 per liter, and that the purchase did not undergo public bidding as required under the Government Procurement Reform Act.