Sandiganbayan: Evidence vs Joc-joc Bolante insufficient

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Thursday, August 28, 2014


THE Sandiganbayan second division has found insufficient evidence to proceed with the plunder case of former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante over the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

In the resolution, the court said the prosecution team needs to show that Bolante amassed at least P50 million from illegal transactions or the case against him and all his co-defendants will be dismissed.

"After a painstaking review of the documents submitted by the Office of the Ombudsman… the Court finds, and so rules, that the prosecution failed to establish the presence of the second element of the crime of plunder, i.e., that the accused public officer/s amassed or acquired ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts," the resolution stated.

The court noted that among the documents cited by the Ombudsman in recommending indictment was a special report by the Commission on Audit on the P728-million Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Farm Input Fund.

Bolante and his co-respondents were accused of pocketing P265.64 million out of this sum.

Other co-accused in the case were former Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, Assistant Secretary Ibarra Trinidad Poliquit and private defendants Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo and Leonicia Marco-Llarena who were the suppliers of the allegedly diluted and overpriced liquid fertilizer.

The former agriculture undersecretary was specifically accused of diverting and misusing P56.64 million that he failed to liquidate but the court noted that there was no explanation as to how the money went to Bolante.

"The OMB failed to allege, and even substantiate, how the funds eventually found their way back to Bolante. Since the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by the accused public official is an essential element of the crime of plunder, it is incumbent upon the OMB to present proof," the resolution said.

According to the prosecution's evidence, P547.4 million was distributed to local government units (LGUs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) identified by proponents including 103 congressmen, 49 provincial governors and 26 mayors.

Among the NGOs named were the same ones linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles who is now facing three counts of plunder concerning alleged fraud involving over half a billion pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of senators.

The court said the documents submitted by prosecutors established some irregularities in the distribution of funds but fell short of providing proof that accused public officials received or amassed ill-gotten wealth.

As things stand, the Sandiganbayan said that there is no ground for plunder but perhaps only for lesser offenses of malversation or graft.

"If this were a simple malversation case and it is shown that accused Bolante is an accountable officer who had custody or possession of the funds, then the mere fact that the funds are missing and unaccounted for would be sufficient to determine probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest," the resolution noted.

Having determined lack of probable cause, it declared under ordinary circumstances, dismissal may already be ordered but it chose to give the prosecution a chance because "it cannot close its eyes to the glaring badges of fraud and irregularity in the release and utilization of the P728-million Fertilizer Funds".

Last May 8, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has junked the plunder case filed against detained former president and Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in connection with the same case, citing that "there is no factual, or legal basis" to show Arroyo's participation in the scheme. (Sunnex)

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