Court affirms dismissal of fertilizer fund scam 'operator'-A A +A
Thursday, August 23, 2012
THE Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman, which ordered the dismissal of former Agriculture assistant secretary Ibarra Poliquit and several other officials of the department for grave misconduct in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Aside from Poliquit, the Ombudsman also ordered the dismissal of Department of Agriculture (DA) regional directors Reinerio Belarmino Jr., Gumersindo Lasam, Ricardo Oblena, Leo Caneda and Oscar Parawan.
In a 20-page decision penned by Associate Justice Romeo Barza, the CA's Seventh Division dismissed the petition filed by Poliquit seeking to stop the implementation of the Ombudsman–Field Investigation Office's March 18, 2011 decision ordering their removal from government service.
The CA said there appears to be no sign of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Ombudsman in coming out with its assailed ruling by giving credence on the counter-affidavit of Belarmino, one of the regional directors dismissed from service.
"Clearly, having performed his official function with clear intent to violate the law or disregard established rules, the petitioner is liable for grave misconduct," the CA held.
The appellate court dismissed the argument of Poliquit that it was former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who was running the DA’s Farm input/Farm Implement Fund (FIFIF) program, and that he had no hand in the modification of the list of initial proponents and the corresponding fund allocations.
Said amount was allocated to cover the purchase of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers to be distributed to identify proponents comprising of congressional districts or local government units in line with the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) program of the DA.
Bolante was earlier dubbed by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez as the "architect of the fertilizer fund scam" when the latter filed a graft case at the Ombudsman.
On the other hand, former President Arroyo was accused of diverting the funds intended for farm use to bankroll her 2004 presidential election campaign.
Poliquit said it was Bolante who had been authorized by then Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo to approve the request for issuance and release of the (Special Allotment Release Order) to the different DA regional field units or offices for implementation of the FIFIP, and under the Secretary's memorandum, was authorized to "assess, evaluate and approve" all requests for fund assistance under the program.
"Petitioner's mandatory acts in the subject memoranda, which are 'requests' to Usec. Bolante, facilitated the release of the funds to the RFU. His acts were essential elements that paved the way for the approval of the request and release the funds in said DA program, and eventually caused the regional executive directors (REDs) into entering in MOAs even beyond their signing authority," the CA ruled.
The court said Poliquit's claim that his right to speedy disposition of his case was violated also has no basis. It gave merit to the argument of the Office of the Solicitor General that the complexity of the nature of the case is acceptable reason for the delay in the resolution of the case.
The CA noted that the case originated from three different administrative cases involving 33 employees of the DA and local government units and their respective actions in various stages and degrees in the so-called fertilizer scam.
"The petitioner herein likewise failed to asset his right to a speedy resolution of his case. Such right was only invoked after the Ombudsman issued the assailed decision and resolution finding him guilty of grave misconduct. His silence, therefore, is a waiver of his right," it added.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Ramon Cruz.
Records showed that the amount was released by the Department of Budget and Management to the DA under a Saro with notice of cash allocation for P291.12 million. The Saro included 181 beneficiaries of the funds composed of congressional districts, provinces and municipalities.
Upon investigation by the Commission on Audit, there were at least 76 proponents named in the list that were not given funds, while there were at least 18 proponents that were not included in the list but were given allocations.
The Ombudsman's FIO-Task Force Abono then reported that when the REDs entered into MOA with local government units transferring the fund allocated to the latter, they violated DA’s memorandum order, which provides that MOA transfer funds to the implementing agencies amounting to P5 million and below shall be approved by the assistant secretary concerned.
The memorandum also states that if the amount transferred exceeds P5 million but less than P10 million, the MOA should be approved by the undersecretary concerned and if the amount is more than P10 million, it should be approved by the secretary.
The COA subsequently established that out of the P728 million fertilizer funds released to the DA, only P666.36 million was liquidated while a total of P56.64 million was left unliquidated.
The task force also noted that Poliquit violated the rules on competitive bidding under Republic Act 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act, which resulted in unlawful procurement of overpriced fertilizers and farm equipment from favored suppliers. This prompted the task force to file charges against Poliquit and the REDs before the Ombudsman.
In filing his petition at the CA, Poliquit said the Ombudsman erred in finding him guilty of grave misconduct considering that there was no proof presented that his act of recommending the sub-allotment of the FIFIF to the different DA RFUs not included in the list of supposed beneficiaries was an intentional and deliberate violation of the law.
He argued that the Ombudsman cannot hold him liable for grave misconduct just because there are some REDs who were not able to fully account the respective funds released to them. He added that the Ombudsman’s ruling to dismiss him from service was too harsh, considering his good track record, and that that this was the first time he had been charged in his 20 years in government. (JCV/Sunnex)