THE Sandiganbayan late last month dismissed the plunder charges filed by the government against former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and former Agriculture Secretary Luis Ramon Lorenzo Jr. due to the alleged failure of prosecutors to provide evidence that would support the charges against them.
In a 24-page resolution dated Nov. 28 but was only released Monday, the anti-graft court’s Special Second Division ruled that government prosecutors failed to show probable cause against Bolante, Lorenzo and six others for plunder, despite being given a chance to shore up the case.
Even as “the central key player in this case is none other than Bolante,” the court noted “no material participation, other than the release of the funds, could be shown to be attributable to accused Bolante.”
The court already found a lack of probable cause in August 2014. But instead of throwing out the case, it directed the Ombudsman to submit evidence showing how Bolante and the other accused amassed the P723 million intended for fertilizers and farm inputs.
In response, the government prosecutors amended the charge sheet on July 21 and made whistle-blower Jose Barredo Jr., who was earlier named as a case defendant, a state witness.
Nevertheless, the court still found the amended charge sheet, including Barredo’s 20-page judicial affidavit, to be lacking as it only detailed “the modus operandi of the fertilizer scam, the persons who were offered, or had received and how the ‘SOP,’ a or commissions were distributed.” SOP or standard operating procedure, in this instance, is a euphemism for grease money or bribe.
Barredo mentioned several recipients of the SOP, but the court said they were local officials who had fund allotments from the Department of Agriculture (DA). The officials were not even defendants in the plunder case, the court noted.
“Neither is there even any mention that such ‘SOPs’ or commissions, after having been received by the local officials or DA officials, were collected by, or channeled back to Bolante and/or the other accused in this case to complete the process of amassing, accumulating or acquiring ill-gotten wealth,” the resolution read.
The “documents could not show, even prima facie, that the fund eventually ended up with Bolante,” the court concluded.
The court, at the same time, reiterated that while the prosecution’s documents established that the Farm Input and Farm Implement Program fund was distributed despite irregularities, it could not show that ill-gotten wealth was amassed.
In granting the accused officials’ motion seeking the dismissal of the charges against them, the anti-graft court noted that “There is no document and/or testimony submitted to establish that accused Bolante received this unliquidated amount so as to make him probably guilty of the crime of plunder.”
It will be recalled that both Bolante and Lorenzo Jr. fled the country to avoid appearing before a Senate committee investigating the use of P723 million in fertilizer funds to allegedly bankroll then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004. They were later charged with plunder for the misuse of the funds that reportedly went to more than 100 members of the House of Representatives three months before the elections.
Meanwhile, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she may asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Sandiganbayan decision.
“If there’s a ground to question it, why not? We can’t just give up if we feel that there’s a ground for it,” Morales told reporters.
Aside from Bolante and Lorenzo, also cleared were Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ibarra Trinidad C. Poliquit and private defendants Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo and Leonicia Marco-Llarena.