THE Sandiganbayan has denied separate motions filed by former Eastern Samar governor Clotilde Salazar, former Rep. Marcelino Libanan, and seven other defendants for leave to file demurrer to evidence that would challenge the sufficiency of prosecution evidence in graft charges against them.
Sixth Division Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, Karl B. Miranda, and Kevin Narce B. Vivero issued a resolution dated August 13, 2020 ordering the defendants to start presenting their evidence by August 25 and 26.
Justice Fernandez, division chairperson, penned the nine-page ruling.
The court reminded the accused that under the Rules of Court they still have an option to file their respective demurrers to evidence even without leave. However, taking this route will be risky since they will be deemed to have waived their right to present evidence if the court affirms the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence.
“After a careful examination of the prosecution’s evidence and the arguments in the accused’ respective Motions, this Court rules that granting the accused leave to file their demurrers to evidence will accomplish nothing but delay the proceedings,” the anti-graft court declared.
The charges, filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2018, concern alleged misuse of P10 million Fertilizer Funds officially known as the Farm Input and Farm Implements Program (FIFIP) of the Department of Agriculture in 2004.
Aside from Salazar and Libanan, also named co-defendants were provincial agriculturist Jesus Agda, provincial accountant Vener Dulfo, Bids and Awards chair Ma. Vilma Bormate, BAC vice chair Necitas Ponferrada, and BAC members Samson Nervez, Reynaldo Dorado, and Manuel Japzon.
A panel of graft investigators said the funds were used to purchase fertilizer from Akame Marketing by direct contracting without making any effort to canvass lower-priced substitute.
The public officials were charged with favoring the trader-supplier by approving the purchase of NBEM-21 microbial inoculant soil activator (NBEM fertilizer) even if the product was not registered with the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) and the supplier, Akame, had no license for such trade.
The Ombudsman cited the letter of former FPA executive director Norlito Gicana dated February 19, 2012, confirming that brand NBEM fertilizer or the supposed distributor Akame were not registered with the agency.
Investigators said the provincial government received the P10 million FIFIP funds in two tranches of P5 million each. The first P5 million was received through Libanan and the next one was channeled through the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit 8.
In their motions, defendants claimed there was no evidence to support allegations of conspiracy, the government witnesses lacked personal knowledge of the transaction as they were mere custodians of documents, and the bulk of documents presented were mere photocopies.
Prosecutors countered that the photocopies presented have previously been confirmed by the defense to be faithful reproductions of originals. They added that the witnesses have personally seen the original documents and had personal knowledge of the FPA list of licensed fertilizer suppliers or were members of the audit team that investigated the so-called Fertilizer Fund scam.