MANILA, Philippines – The seven-year old Fertilizer Fund Scam is finally moving, with the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision to file before the Sandiganbayan two cases related to it.
Two graft charges were filed last April 7, naming as respondents incumbent Sorsogon Provincial Governor Raul R. Lee, accountant Raul G. Hernandez and provincial treasurer Ofelia D. Velasco.
A 22-page resolution recommending indictment was submitted to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez by graft investigation and prosecution officer II Judy Anne Doctor-Escalona way back November 24, 2008.
It stemmed from the complaint of Sorsogon provincial board member Rebecca De Leon Aquino, who accused the officials of undue injury to the government by approving the purchase of 2,133 liters of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizer from supplier Feshan Philippines Inc. in 2004.
The fertilizer was bought at P1,500 per liter against a prevailing market price of only P180/L or an overprice of more than 800 percent.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro finally approved the indictment resolution last March 29 “pursuant to delegated authority”.
Interestingly, page 21 of the resolution also showed it was Casimiro who “recommended approval of Escalona’s resolution” after Preliminary Investigation and Administrative Bureau (PARB) Director Mary Antonette Yalao signed her concurrence on the document.
According to graft investigators, the purchase was accomplished through two separate transactions involving payment for 133 liters of liquid fertilizer on May 6, 2004 for P189,525 and another 2,000 liters for P3 million on June 28, 2004.
Auditors noted the officials approved the purchases via “sole or exclusive distributorship” even if there were other comparable substitutes in the market.
“It is evident that the province proceeded to purchase the fertilizer without conducting any price canvass and evaluation report…thereby making it perceptible that the acquisition of the Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizer was tailored for Fershan Phils. Inc. which appears to be the exclusive distributor of the said brand,” the Ombudsman resolution pointed out.
The disbursement vouchers for both transactions were signed by all three accused. Auditors noted the money came from a P5 million allocation extended to the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit V (DA-FRU V) under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA).
Auditors also noted only P3.25 million of the purchase has been accounted for. Details of the P1.75 million balance are unclear.
Auditors also noted the type bought is “not the appropriate” one for the province because its prime product is ‘pili.’ A foliar/liquid fertilizer was suitable mostly for ornamental hanging plants like orchids.
Prosecutor Escalona recommended that bail bond for the accused be set at P30,000 for each count of graft.
Cleared were Feshan executives Ma. Eunique Galang and Redentor Antolin due to insufficient evidence against them.