I HAVE it on good authority that Cito Lorenzo is not a thief.

In December 2002, Luis “Cito” Lorenzo Jr. was appointed by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA). After 18 months in office, he tendered his resignation from the Cabinet.

Upon Lorenzo’s resignation from the DA in 2004, he was appointed by GMA as chairman of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). It was during Lorenzo’s stint at LBP when news of the P728-million fertilizer fund scam broke out. In October 2005, he fled the country.

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Admittedly, flight is not a good sign—-after all, flight is a sign of guilt. So was Cito Lorenzo guilty of the charges that were never filed against him?

While Agriculture Undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante was widely known to be the architect of the fertilizer fund scam, a 2007 Senate report found Lorenzo among the signatories in the anomalous transaction. The Senate recommended that Lorenzo, along with Bolante, be charged with plunder and violation of the Anti-Graft & Corrupt Practices Act.

The Ombudsman, while admitting it had a very strong case against Lorenzo, never acted on the Senate’s recommendation. While Lorenzo was in self-exile in the United States, the Philippine government exerted no effort to find him. And no charges were ever filed against Lorenzo.

This should speak volumes for those who really seek to know the truth about Lorenzo’s involvement in the fertilizer scam. Why did the government leave him alone if it were not for the fact that, perhaps, they were complicit to the anomalous transactions Lorenzo purportedly participated in?

I’ve been told that the very reason why the Wharton-educated Lorenzo resigned from the Department of Agriculture was because he could no longer stomach the things he was being pressured to do in the department. At the Land Bank of the Philippines, it was the same story—-but before he could once more resign, the fertilizer scandal broke out.

It has been alleged that the P728-million fertilizer fund was diverted to GMA’s 2004 presidential campaign. These are very serious allegations that Lorenzo can probably answer now. Do I think he is guilty? Yes. Guilty of not telling the truth when he was called to do so.

Two people have been silenced permanently for their efforts to seek the truth in the fertilizer scam. In March 2005, gunmen barged into the home of journalist Marlene Esperat and shot her in front of her children. In April 2009, Agriculture Undersecretary Gomersindo Lasam was gunned down on his way to his farm. Can anyone blame Lorenzo for fleeing?

It wasn’t patriotic of him to flee the country. But I suppose we all have to make difficult choices at different points in our lives. Between patriotism and survival, he chose the latter. Now, he’s chosen to come back. He risks his life simply by being in the country. He could get killed before he even opens his mouth. So let’s cut Cito Lorenzo some slack. Let’s suspend judgment for now.

I don’t write in defense of Cito Lorenzo. I write to offer another perspective.

(sunstarcebucolumnist@yahoo.com)