The Supreme Court has paved the way for the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the trial of the graft charges filed against Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid and three officers of a trading firm, in connection with his alleged involvement in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
In a 13-page decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr., the SC’s Second Division overturned and set aside the resolution issued by the anti-graft court on Sept. 30, 2016 and Dec. 13, 2016 dismissing the graft cases against Lapid, Malayan Pacific Trading Corp. officials Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar, Leolita Aquino and Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources proprietor Alexander S.D. Vasquez.
The Sandiganbayan dismissed the case against Lapid due to violation of the respondents right to a speedy disposition of their cases.
However, the high court ruled that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in dismissing the graft complaint against Lapid and his co-accused on ground of inordinate delay on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman in conducting its fact-finding investigation on the case.
The SC noted that the case against the respondents started on May 2, 2011 upon the filing by the Field Investigation Office- Task Force Abono of the Ombudsman and that the Sandiganbayan even observed that there was no evidence to show that the Ombudsman commenced and conducted a fact-finding investigation as earlier as 2006.
It added that the panel found probable cause to indict Lapid and his co-accused for graft on Sept. 18, 2013 or two years and four months from the filing of the complaint.
“Thus, from the filing of the formal complaint until the Ombudsman’s approval of the resolution finding probable cause against Lapid, et al., the length of time consumed for the preliminary investigation was three years and one month,” the tribunal held.
“In sum, delay becomes inordinate only in the presence of arbitrary, vexatious and oppressive actions or inactions that are discernible from the proceedings. No such delay attended the Ombudsman’s proceedings that would warrant the dismissal of the criminal case against herein respondents,” the SC stressed.
Lapid and his co-accused are facing trial for violation of Section 3 (e) and 3 (g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for alleged anomalous purchased of overprized liquid fertilizers amounting to P4.76 million from MPTC.
Based on the information of the case filed by Ombudsman, the purchase was made without holding a public bidding as Lapid, based on the certification he issued, said there are no suitable substitute to Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer despite availability of a suitable substitute offered at a much lower price in the locality.
The Ombudsman also alleged that the purchased items were overpriced by as much as P4.268 million.
The offense was allegedly committed by Lapid and his co-accused in 2004 when he was still the governor of Pampanga
The money for the purchase of the questioned items supposedly came from the P728-million funds of the Department of Agriculture for its “Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Program” of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.