Ex-solon, DA officials acquitted in fertilizer fund scam charges

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    THE Sandiganbayan Second Division has acquitted former Quezon City Rep. Nanette Daza and 10 officials of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit (DA-RFU) 4 of graft and technical malversation charges filed against them in 2011 by the Office of the Ombudsman.

    In a 40-page decision, the anti-graft court held that the evidence presented by the prosecution failed to establish that the defendants committed any unlawful act in relation to the purchase of shredding machine, hammer mill, pelletizer, and shredder/chipper using P3 million from the P728 million fertilizer fund of the DA Central Office.

    Associate Justice Michael Frederick L. Musngi penned the decision with Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna concurring.

    Aside from Daza, also acquitted were DA-RFU 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, as well as private defendant Remus Villanueva.

    They were accused of graft for allegedly approving the procurement of farm equipment from LCV Designs represented by accused Villanueva even if there was no basis to declare the supplier as an exclusive distributor.

    In the technical malversation charge, prosecutors said the money was unlawfully diverted to the purchase of shredders and chippers although the appropriation was for the acquisition and distribution of fertilizers for farmer beneficiaries.

    The Office of the Ombudsman likewise questioned the inclusion of Daza in the DA program when her district is located in Metro Manila while the fund was downloaded to the DA-Region 4 field office.

    In exonerating the accused, the court held that the defense was able to show that the farm equipment were proprietary designs and inventions exclusively manufactured and distributed by LCV Design.

    Bolstering the defense case was the grant of the patent application to the supplier 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 Sandiganbayan said.

    Likewise, it highlighted the absence of damage and prejudice to the government after witnesses attested that the equipment were duly delivered and put to use.

    At the same time, the court held that the malversation case must fail on the absence of a law designating the specific program, project or activity for the appropriation of the P3 million farm input fund.

    It pointed out that the prosecution relied on the special allotment release order but it was not a law but a mere executive issuance.

    “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 court pointed out.