Fertilizer fund scam case vs. Leyte officials junked

MANILA -- The Sandiganbayan has junked the fertilizer fund scam case lodged against Leyte-5th District Rep. Jose Carlos Cari and his wife, Baybay City, Leyte Mayor Carmen Cari.

The graft court said its decision stemmed from the Office of the Ombudsman's "failure to justify the 11-year delay in filing the complaint" against the husband and wife officials.

"The fact-finding and preliminary investigations conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman for a period of 11 years remained unjustified," the Sandiganbayan Second Division said in its 10-page resolution.

The resolution was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna dated Jan. 8, 2018. Concurring were Associate Justices Oscar Herrera, Jr. and Michael Frederick Musngi.

The Cari couple was charged in August 2017 with two counts each of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and malversation of public funds or property, as defined and penalized under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

The Ombudsman said the couple took advantage of their official functions, when they favored Castle Rock Construction for the supply of 600 gallons of foliar liquid fertilizers without public bidding, thus violating Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

It added that the payment of the contract caused undue damage to the government worth PHP2.94 million, which was paid in two tranches in April 2004 and January 2005, when Carmen was then the Leyte 5th district representative while Jose served as Baybay City mayor.

In their defense, the couple argued that their right to a speedy disposition of the case was violated when it took the Ombudsman seven years to come up with a complaint and another four years and 10 months to conclude its preliminary investigations.

In its resolution, the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution "failed to explain the reasons behind the lengthy process of fact-finding investigation, since the Task Force Abono was created purposely to investigate and file cases relative to the so-called Fertilizer Fund Scam."

The anti-graft court added that the length of the delay would make it hard for defense witnesses to accurately recall the events that allegedly led to the commission of the crime.

"In the present cases, accused stood at a disadvantage, as they can no longer adequately defend themselves due to unavailability of witnesses and the absence of documentary evidence imperative for their defense," the anti-graft court said.

"The court is constrained to resolve the controversy in favor of the greater right of the accused to a speedy disposition of cases," the Sandiganbayan added.

Likewise, the anti-graft court junked the cases against the couple's co-accused, former city accountant Evelinda Oppus and city treasurer Paquita Austero.

Source: Philippine News Agency