PARTIAL Bid Results March 4: HPCo molasses =P8,380; Vicmico =P1,630.25; Lopez A =P1,465.65, B =P1,630 & molasses =P8,470; Sagay A =P1,466, B =P1,630 & molasses =P8,470; BISCOM A =P1,465.65, B =P1,635.95 & molasses =P8,519.

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The Sandiganbayan recently handed down an order that former Negros Occidental governor and outgoing SRA administrator Lito Coscolluela, together with his four co-accused, should be tried for the graft charge filed against him.

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The case stemmed from the alleged anomalous purchase of medical and farm equipment way valued at approximately P20 million way back in May 2001 when Lito was serving his third and last term as governor.

The late Dr. Patricio Tan, head of the People’s Graft Watch of the province back then, filed the case before the Ombudsman against Lito Coscolluela, former 5th district congressman Jose Apolinario Lozada, former Provincial Health Officer Dr. Ernesto Malvas, former Special Projects head Edwin Nacionales, Jose Amugod and Romeo B. Chan of Venmilyn Enterprises.

Lozada was eventually dropped from the case but the other accused were charged before the anti-graft court.

The Ombudsman acted on the case only after almost a decade since it was filed. This did not escape the attention of the public who labeled the case as having been resurrected by sugar smugglers whose illicit activities were shackled by Coscolluela’s no-nonsense campaign against sugar smuggling.

Lito himself stated, “I suspect that this is part of a campaign to oust me from SRA because of our anti-smuggling campaign. We’ve apparently hurt a few people and now we’ve heard there is an effort to have me replaced.”

Sugar industry leaders came out in support of Coscolluela. Enrique D. Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, declared last July 2009 that the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines will rally behind Coscolluela if smugglers will move to have him ousted from office for campaigning against sugar smuggling.

Despite the outpouring of support for the beleaguered SRA administrator, the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant of arrest against Coscolluela and his co-accused. They posted bail and filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The people hounding Coscolluela were not content in having a warrant of arrest issued against him. They went to the extent of securing a hold departure order against him, such that Coscolluela failed to attend the International Sugar Organization annual assembly in London last year.

This was the first time that the SRA Administrator, normally the head of the Philippine delegation to the ISO convention, was unable to attend because of the hold departure order.

During the series of hearings last month, the Sandiganbayan did not look kindly at Lito’s motion to dismiss the case. The anti-graft court ordered that all the accused should be tried. Arraignment was set for the third week of this month.

“We are prepared to defend ourselves during the hearing,” Coscolluela declared.

Things do not seem to be going well for Lito as the campaign period for local elections approaches.

Sugar prices are wobbling during the final weeks of his stay as SRA head. Had he resigned as SRA head when sugar prices were peaking after he filed his certificate of candidacy last year, he not only would have been well-remembered for the good sugar prices but he would have stamped his class as a person of delicadeza who let go of his position even though the Supreme Court ruled that they can hold on to it.

Whether he likes it or not, Lito will be blamed by some quarters in the sugar industry for the drop in sugar prices. Now he is set to be arraigned before the Sandiganbayan as the campaign period starts.

It is not inconceivable that the case might be tried during the campaign period. This will be another distraction which can derail his campaign. This graft case will definitely hound him in the campaign trail.

World sugar prices still preclude the profitability of sugar smuggling, effectively removing the smugglers as a shield to deflect the negative sentiments that this graft case will rain on Lito.

Other quarters cry political harassment but this does not hold water. Are they implying that PGMA turned her back on Lito and, all of a sudden, became chummy with the Marañons? PGMA might not be exactly happy that an official of her administration will not wear her party’s colors in running for this election but, knowing how vindictive PGMA is, this is not reason enough for her to suddenly support Freddie Marañon.

Lito runs on a platform of good governance but this graft case against him undermines the message he is trying to deliver.

What a candidate trumpets is what he is trying to imply that his political opponent lacks. If Lito espouses good governance during the campaign, his critics will quickly retort, “Who between the two of you has a graft case before the Sadiganbayan?”

With this graft case hanging over his head, Lito will find it difficult to convince people that he stands for good governance. It is imperative upon him to speed up the trial of the graft case. He needs to secure a clean bill of health from the Sandiganbayan before he can convince Negrenses of the sincerity of his candidacy.

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)