Sandiganbayan acquits ex-Quezon City lawmaker in fertilizer scam
MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Quezon City 4th District representative Nanette Castelo-Daza and 11 others of graft and technical malversation in connection to the fertilizer fund scam.
In its 40-page decision, the Sandiganbayan Second Division ruled that the prosecution’s evidence failed to establish that the 11 defendants committed any unlawful act in the purchase of P3 million worth of equipment sourced from the P728 million Fertilizer Fund of the DA Central Office.
Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi penned the decision with Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna concurring.
The Department of Agriculture officials who were also acquitted were DA-Regional Field Unit 4 executive director Dennis Araullo; accountants Juvylee Obice and Raymundo Braganza; cashiers Grover Dino and Dory Iranzo; Bids and Awards Committee members Abelardo Bragas, Felix Ramos, Ofelia Montilla, and Gregorio Sangalang; and regional technical director for operation Balagtas Torres.
The private defendant, Remus Villanueva, was also acquitted.
In 2011, the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft and technical malversation charges against the 12.
The case stemmed from the approval of the purchase of farm equipment from LCV Designs represented by Villanueva, even if there was supposedly no basis to declare the supplier as the exclusive distributor.
In the technical malversation charge, prosecutors alleged that the P3-million fund appropriated for the acquisition and distribution of fertilizers to farmer beneficiaries of the fertilizer fund was unlawfully diverted to the procurement of shredders and chippers.
The Office of the Ombudsman also questioned the inclusion of Daza in the program when her district is located in Metro Manila. The fund was downloaded to the DA-Region 4 field office.
In its decision, the court said that the defense showed that LCV Design exclusively manufactured and distributed the purchased farm equipment. The defense backed its claim by presenting the grant of the patent application to the supplier for the equipment, after the cases were filed in court.
“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.
It also noted witnesses’ testimony that the equipment had been delivered and used.
The court said that the prosecutors relied on the special allotment release order (SARO) which was just an executive issuance, and not a law.
It junked the malversation case citing the absence of a law designating the specific program, project, or activity for the appropriation of the P3 million Farm Input Fund.
“RA 9206 was the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the year 2003. It contained the annual budget of the government and how it was to be spent (but) it does not contain any specific appropriation for AFMA (Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act) or RA 8435 nor the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Program as claimed in the information,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The fertilizer scam, which was investigated by the Senate blue ribbon committee in 2006, involved P728 million in DA funds under the Ginintuang Masaganing Ani allegedly misused by legislators in collusion with their partners – private suppliers and foundations that were recipients of the funds.
The farm fund was suspected as financing political allies of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the May 2004 presidential polls, which she won. The Office of the Ombudsman had earlier cleared Arroyo in the fertilizer fund mess. – Rappler.com