Lapid charged with graft over fertilizer fund scam

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Friday, August 1, 2014

THE Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the filing of charges against Senator Lito Lapid and other provincial officers in Pampanga in connection with the alleged P780-million fertilizer fund scam.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has found probable cause on Friday to charge the lawmaker and others with violation of Section 3(g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act due to alleged irregularities with the "Ginintuang Masaganang Ani" (GMA) Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) when Lapid was still the governor of Pampanga during the previous Arroyo Administration.

Morales said that Lapid together with fellow co-accused, provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon allegedly conspired with the incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corporation (MPTC) Maria Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino, and Dexter Alexander Vasquez, Proprietor of D.A. Vazquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources after purchasing the fertilizers "in complete disregard of the Government Procurement Reform Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations".

The Ombudsman noted that based on the findings made by the special panel for the fertilizer fund scam, several violations of the procurement rules were committed by Lapid, Yuzon and Yabut.

"They entered into a transaction that (was) grossly and manifestly disadvantageous... because the Government paid P4,761,818.18 (P4,850,000.00 less net of tax of P88,181.82) without ensuring that the government benefits from the best products/services available from the market at the best price," the reported stated.

Morales noted that based on March 18, 2004 report, the Provincial Board of Pampanga adopted Resolution No. 72 authorizing Lapid to enter in behalf of the province, into an agreement with the DA's regional office in Central Luzon for the implementation of the Farm Input/Implement Fund/Program in line with the DA's Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program.

Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante on March 29, 2004, issued a Memorandum requesting the approval of Sub-Allotment Advise (SAA) for P5-million covered by Sub-Allotment Release Order (SARO) E-04-00164.

The agency later issued Notices of Transfer Allotment (NTA) on March 30 and April 2004 authorizing Landbank of the Philippines to transfer P5 million to DA-Central Luzon.

The investigation panel also disclosed that the local government of Pampanga received a price quotation on May 12, 2004 from D.A. Vazquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources offering its Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer at P1,250 per liter per bottle, inclusive of training and technical assistance.

The report also stated that then governor Lapid issued a Purchase Request covering the procurement of 3,880 bottles of fertilizer at P1,250 per liter/bottle.

Lapid also issued a certification that "there was no suitable fertilizer substitute with the same quality" and that the mode of procurement would be direct purchase from its exclusive distributor, MPTC.

"While in the performance of the duties, Lapid, Yabut and Yuzon, in conspiracy with Vasquez, Aquino and Abubakar, committed the act of purchasing the fertilizers in complete disregard of Republic Act No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) and its Implementing Rules and Regulations," the investigation report stated.

The provincial resolution mentioned that "if the Provincial Government of Pampanga undertook the purchase through public bidding, it could have purchased a fertilizer of equal or better quality than Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer at a lesser or competitive cost, thus allowing the Province of Pampanga to secure the best commercially available fertilizer product at the lowest price possible".

Morales also ordered the dismissal from the service of Pampanga provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and Pampanga provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon.

The Ombudsman firmly reminded that "as officials tasked to enforce local taxation and fiscal matters within their local government unit, it is but expected for the Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Accountant to be abreast and knowledgeable to recent developments in fiscal administration, i.e. RA 9184 (Procurement Law) and its IRR-A, and to implement the same within their jurisdiction".

"When they (Yabut and Yuzon) performed the said acts without questioning the propriety of the transaction, much less inquiring whether the same was in accordance with the existing policies and procedures, and by mechanically fixing their signature thereon, they signified their acquiesce to disregard RA 9184," she said.

Meanwhile, the criminal cases against Lulu Alingcastre, Leonardo Mendoza, Ramir Flores, Ismael Abubakar, Jr., Alberto Aquino, Arthur Aquino, Paul Albert Aguino, Marites Santo Domingo, Rolando Dorado and Ade Nasuiton were dismissed for lack of probable cause.

The case against Benalfre Galang was also dismissed since he already passed away. The administrative charges against Alingcastre, Mendoza and Flores were also dismissed for lack of merit. (Sunnex)

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