A former Quezon City congressman and several others were acquitted by the Sandiganbayan graft and technical malversation charges stemming from the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in a decision promulgated Jan. 31, but made available only on Wednesday.
Former Quezon City Rep. Nanette Castelo-Daza and her co-accused —then Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit IV officials Dennis Araullo, Juvylee Obice, Raymundo Braganza, Gover Dino, Dory Iranzo, Abelardo Bragas, Felix Ramos, Ofelia Montilla, Gregorio Sangalang, Balagtas Torres and Remus Villanueva were acquitted after the Ombudsman failed to sufficiently establish the essential elements of graft and technical malversation.
In the case filed by the Ombudsman in 2011, Daza and the DA officials were accused of using the appropriation of P3 million for the purchase of farm equipment without public bidding.
It was not explained where the farm equipment will be used although there are no farms in the Fourth District of Quezon City that Daza represented.
The fund, disbursed in 2004, was part of the P728-million farm input fund under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program of the DA. This was the subject of a Senate investigation based on a Commission on Audit report.
Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, the alleged mastermind of the scam, earlier admitted granting requests of at least three representatives of non-agricultural congressional districts in Metro Manila. But then he clarified that funds were released as part of the government’s assistance for “urban agricultural” projects within the lawmakers’ constituencies.
The Sandiganbayan’s Second Division, in its decision, said the farm equipment “were invented, manufactured and exclusively distributed” by LCV Design and Fabrication Corp.
The court added there was “no unwarranted benefit” on the part of the government as the equipment cannot be bought from other sources and the similar products were shown to be different from the ones procured.
“In conclusion, the prosecution failed to prove the essential element of the offense - that the conduct of a public bidding was required in this procurement and that the negotiated procurement was the wrong mode of procurement,” the court said in the decision written by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi and concurred in by Division Chairman Oscar Herrera, Jr. and Associate Justice Lorifel Lacap Pahimna.
On the technical malversation case, the court said it was not proven that a public fund which has been appropriated by law was used other than that for which such fund has been appropriated.