SC junks graft on Cebu mayor, others in 2004 fertilizer fund scam

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THE Supreme Court upheld the motion filed by Mayor Edgar Rama of Poro, Cebu and several others seeking the dismissal of the corruption and embezzlement charges brought against them for their alleged involvement in the scam of the Fertilizer Fund of 2004.

In an eight-page resolution, the Court’s First Division overturned and annulled the January 21, 2021 and February 17, 2021 issued by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division rejecting the request by Rama and his co-defendants to dismiss the case against them.

Rama and his co-defendants, former city councilors William Surbano, Gorgonia Gonzales, Sergio Zurita and Nilo Gorgonio, insisted that the charges against them be closed on the basis of a Supreme Court ruling issued on July 28, 2020 which declared dismissed similar charges against their two other co-respondents — North Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco and her former husband Pompey Perez — because of the Office of the Ombudsman’s violation of their constitutional right to a speedy resolution of cases.

The anti-graft court said the court clarified that the dismissal order only concerned the cases filed against Catamco and Perez, not the other respondents.

However, the SC held that on July 28, 2020 the Court dismissing the criminal cases against Catamco and Perez for violation of their constitutional right to a speedy settlement of cases should also apply favorably to the applicants who were all in the same situation. .

“It should be noted that the petitioners, Catamco and Perez are all in the same situation being the same accused in the complaints lodged with the ombudsperson and the information lodged with the Sandiganbayan,” the SC said.

“Whatever the undue delay suffered by Catamco and Perez during the preliminary investigation before the mediator until the filing of the information in the Sandiganbayan was also suffered by the petitioners. Consequently, there is no reason why the discussion and the decision rendered by the Court should not be applied to the applicants ”, he added.

The cases stemmed from a 5 million peso fertilizer supply contract that the Poro municipal government awarded to the Perzebros company owned by Catamco and Perez in April 2004.

During 2006, the Audit Commission (COA) discovered presumed excessive prices and irregularities in the fertilizer purchasing process.

Therefore, the Ombudsman’s Office launched the Abono Task Force (TFA) to specifically conduct a fact-finding investigation into the alleged “Fertilizer Fund Scam”.

On the basis of the investigation, on June 21, 2013, the working group filed a complaint dated December 27, 2012 against applicants, including Perez and Catamco, before the Ombudsman.

On July 19, 2013, the Ombudsman ordered the applicants, as well as Perez and Catamco, to file their respective counter-affidavits.

The respondents filed their respective counter-affidavits from September 12, 2014 to May 20, 2015.

After more than two years, or on July 17, 2017, the Ombudsman issued his resolution finding probable cause to indict Perez, Catamco and the applicants on one count of violation of Article 3 (e) of the Law of the Republic ( RA) No. 3019 and two counts of embezzlement under Article 217 of the Revised Criminal Code (CPR).

The said resolution was approved on August 1, 2017.

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