Farmers groups file ‘fertilizer scam’ charges vs Merci
May 10, 2011
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez may have resigned from her post, but by no means is she going to enjoy her new state of unemployment.
On Monday, May 9, leaders of the farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas were accompanied by lawyers from Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) as they filed criminal charges against resigned Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez at the Department of Justice in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
The complainants include Anakpawis Partylist Representative Rafael V. Mariano, the KMP, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Amihan, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Kalipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK), Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), and the NUPL. According to the groups, Gutierrez junked at least 40 reports filed by Task Force Abono, a special probe body the Office of the Ombudsman formed to investigate controversies connected to the fertilizer scam.
The groups are charging Gutierrez for violation of section 3 (e) and (f) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act; for violation of Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code or negligence or tolerance in the prosecution of offenses; for violation of Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code or perjury in solemn affirmation; and violation of Presidential Decree No. 1829 or Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders.
Obstruction of justice, perjury
NUPL secretary general and lawyer Edre Olalia said Gutierrez should be held liable for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. He said the violations were tantamount to obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with the graft complaint the said farmers’ organizations lodged against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the issue of the fertilizer scam.
“Gutierrez resigned, yes, but it doesn’t mean that she can no longer be held accountable or responsible for how she did not perform her duty to prosecute important corruption cases involving the previous administration under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We cannot allow Gutierrez and officials like her to go unpunished for betraying the public trust. These people must be made to account for their actions. Gutierrez was tasked to go after officials who committed serious acts of corruption, but she sat on the cases involving massive graft and corruption,” he said.
Mariano said that the former ombudsman unfailingly served as the the “main protector” of those who masterminded the malversation of P728 million fertilizer funds in 2004.
“As a willing accomplice in the plunder of farmers’ funds, Gutierrez must be held criminally liable,” he said. He asserted that complaint the farmers groups filed are part of their quest for justice and accountability against the previous regime, and a message to the incumbent administration.
“We want to send a strong political message to President Benigno Aquino III that we are keeping a close eye on his administration. He has so far done nothing to hold the thieves accountable, but the Filipino people are determined to see justice done. The thieves who raided the nation’s coffers cannot be allowed to escape punishment. President Aquino should take a cue from actions such as this filing of criminal charges against Gutierrez and put meat into his words that he is an enemy of the corrupt,” he said.
The origins of the controversy
In 2003, an employee of the Department of Agriculture’s resident ombudsman in Central Mindanao Marlene Esperat filed a graft complaint against then agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, then undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, and several others in connection with alleged irregularities in a P432-million fertilizer deal.
Two months before the May 2004 presidential election, Macapagal-Arroyo, herself running for election, was accused by several politicians of “virtual vote-buying” by approving the release of P728 million to favored officials to buy farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticide for their constituents, as part of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani project.
Farmers from Central Luzon and all over Mindanao attested in consequent investigations that they did not receive a single centavo from the fertilizer fund.
As for Esperat who later became a journalist, she was shot dead in her home in Sultan Kudarat on March 24, 2005. Three men were convicted of her murder, but the suspected masterminds—alleged to be officials of the agriculture department office in Central Mindanao —remain at large.
Fertilizer scam paper trail leads to Arroyo
In their 10-page joint complaint-affidavit, the complainants led by KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos and Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said that Gutierrez did not act on any of the recommendations of Task Force Abono made in the report it submitted to her office on June 20, 2006. Among the recommendations they made were the filing of criminal complaints against public officials among them Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante and congressional representatives Nanette Daza, Federico Sandoval, Oscar Gozos and Governor Carmencita Reyes.
In the complaint, the groups said that for Gutierrez not to act promptly on the complaints is inexcusable because (1) a period of more than five (5) years already constitutes inordinate delay in the administration of justice; (2) the reports and evidence gathered by the Task Force Abono, the Senate, and the Commission on Audit finding high-ranking government officials and private individuals culpable have long been submitted and known to Ombudsman Gutierrez as early as during the first quarter of 2006; and (3) the said failure is contrary to the Ombudsman’s duty to give priority to complaints filed against high ranking government officials and/or those occupying supervisory positions and to complaints involving grave offenses and large sums of money.
Ramos said it was apparent from the beginning that Gutierrez was determined to squash the investigations on the fertilizer scam because the paper trail led directly to Malacañang and former president Arroyo.
“Gutierrez had no intention of addressing the corruption charges against high-ranking government officials connected to the fertilizer scam,” he said.
Pamalakaya’s Hicap said that from February to March 2007, Task Force Abono issued subpoena duces tecum to the the Land Bank Department of Agriculture Extension Branch office in Quezon city to provide records of a particular bank account where the money disbursed through checks in the fertilizer fund scam were allegedly deposited. Gutierrez, however, issued a memorandum order stating that all requests or referrals to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for documents, information or bank account examination of subjects of investigation must go through her office first.
According to Hicap, all of Task Force Abono’s reports and findings were not acted upon during the height of the controversy. Instead, Gutierrez took action only on March 11, 2011 when her office issued a joint resolution for the filing of plunder ad other criminal and administrative cases against several government officials involved in the fertilizer fund scam.
“Gutierrez is directly responsible for the failure of Task Force Abono. She moved heaven and earth to protect Arroyo and other corrupt government officials,” he said.
He added that Pamalakaya intends to file criminal and administrative charges against Gutierrez for neglecting and abandoning other cases his group had filed before Office of the Ombudsman under Gutierrez stewardship.
In the meantime, Olalia said that Gutierrez should be held accountable for other cases as well.
“Her inaction even covered cases filed against government officials and state agents involved in human rights violations,” he said. He cited the case of Raymond Manalo, the witness to the abduction of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño which remains pending before the the Office of the Ombudsman.
Lawyer Jobert Pahilga of the Sentra Foundation said his clients in KMP are also determined to file plunder charges against Macapagal-Arroyo in the coming days.
“The farmers who were deprived of the fertilizer funds in 2004 want this issue resolved. They want those behind the massive corruption scam prosecuted and the funds that were intended for them to be returned, he said.
KMP’s Ramos also said that farmers want justice to be served for those who were killed  and silenced when investigations were conducted by other government agencies regarding the scam involving bogus agricultural inputs. He was referring to to KMP-Panay leader Nilo Arado and KMP-Pampanga leader Ofelia “Nanay Perla” Rodriguez who were abducted and killed, respectively.
Arado was abducted in April 2007 while Rodriguez was shot to death in front of her family in January 2006.