MANILA, APRIL 18, 2011 (TRIBUNE) By Angie M. Rosales - Forrmer Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo and his undersecretary, Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante, can still turn themselves as state witnesses despite the filing of plunder charges against them in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago yesterday said, adding that the two will only "have to tell the truth" should they opt to turn themselves state witnesses.

"They can still apply as state witnesses so that the charges against them can be dropped on condition that they will testify against their co-accused. We don't observe any deadline in the application for a state witness. They only have to pinpoint among their colleagues the real culprit," she said.

President Aquino, meanwhile, urged both Lorenzo and Bolante to exercise their best judgment on their current predicament. "It has been a long time since the event that led to the accusations against them but they can still reflect on what they ought to do," Aquino added.

Despite the move of the Office of the Ombudsman to file plunder charges against Lorenzo and Bolante, this does not bar them from availing themselves of such course of action, the senator pointed out.

Aquino gave a similar view, saying that it should be on the initiative of the Ombudsman on whether or not Lorenzo and Bolante are eligible as state witnesses.

"They can do that. It can still be done because you apply to be a state witness not necessarily with a fiscal which is the Ombudsman in this case, but with a judge so they can apply to be a state witness with the Sandiganbayan," the senator who was once a trial court judge, said.

Santiago said based on her experience as a judge, it poses a big challenge for both the accused since it will be difficult to defend their case in court if they will continue manufacturing evidence or concoct stories.

"That's making life more difficult (for their counsel) because sometimes you don't know what will be the consequences of their action when you try to alter the facts," she said.

"So the best way to go about the litigation, whether you're the plaintiff or the accused or the respondent or even just a mere witness is just to tell the truth. You could only earn the ire of the judge if you try to beat around the bush rather than be straightforward and be cited in contempt," she added.

"So they have to tell the truth. Maybe it will exonerate them, maybe it will be tantamount into digging their own hole but still it is really the simplest thing to do, because it's very hard to convince the court and your audience if you cannot argue well your case. It's very difficult to maintain a lie in a courtroom," she said.

Earlier, Sen. Francis Pangilinan challenged Lorenzo and Bolante to spill the beans, so to speak and disclose whether indeed the said funds were diverted to the campaign kitty of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo when she sought for a fresh mandate in 2004 presidential elections.

Santiago noted of critics claims against Pangilinan who view his statements as already an impartiality in the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez as he will be sitting as among the judges or juror in the proceedings in the Senate, convening as an impeachment court.

"For me, that is a question of personal delicadeza or personal ethics – what you think is right based on our code of ethics as public officials or code of conduct and standards for public officials. In my case, since I will act as a judge in the impeachment trial, any pending case that is not yet final and executory which may not have any bearing on the impeachment case but it might possibly called into question, I will not discuss it so as not to be questioned about my motive," she said.

Santiago said there's nothing wrong with her and colleagues discussing during interviews the impeachment case against Gutierrez as it was yet to be transmitted to the upper chamber.

It was still practically still in the process of building up a case against Gutierrez then, she pointed out.

"But the moment it was filed before us, the Senate, we are restricted (from discussing the case). That is why it will be better for a senator not to talk about it. Anyway, we already have a rule on this. I was the one who suggested that we refrain from talking about the merits of the case (when we drafted the rules of impeachment proceedings). You can just tell the public what is the status or what transpired in the hearing but we cannot give our opinion if and when we're asked for an interview.

"Since there is an existing rule on this, this should be followed and observed by everyone," she said.

"There should always be a law or regulation that has to be followed to keep things in order. The law sometimes ask for the impossible, but that is the law as it is. That's not the law as it ought to be," said Santiago.

Whether it was just a tact to exonerate herself from the impending impeachment trial against her, the filing of plunder raps against Lorenzo and Bolante can not be used by Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in defending herself before the Senate.

"It might be coincidence or might not be, but it will have no effect on the impeachment trial because at the time she was impeached in the House of Representatives, the case was still yet to be resolved," Santiago added.

"So it cannot be made as an excuse or grounds to dismiss or drop the case (involving the) overstaying cases in the Ombudsman. So it's not a defense," Santiago said.

Santiago was referring to the issue of timing on the release of the Office of the Ombudsman's decision concerning the P728 million fertilizer fund scam where Lorenzo and Bolante is now being charged with before Sandiganbayan.

The same case form part of the articles of impeachment against Gutierrez filed by the lower house before the Senate.

The inclusion of the said case by the lower house in the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez was only proven to be the right move as the accusation against the Ombudsman was that she was not acting with expediency the resolution of fertilizer scam controversy, Santiago said.

"It will have no bearing in the impeachment trial. Worse, it could even backfire (on Gutierrez) as it could be used (by the prosecution panel) as part of their arguments in defending their complaint and this could only nail her down because they can say that she can actually dispose of the case if pressured or charged in court. So it could be a negative argument against the Ombudsman," she said.

As to the issue of timing, the senator said it's very hard to prove "ill will or bad motive" on the part of the Ombudsman or Gutierrez herself in coming out with the decision at this point in time.

"Whatever they do or undertake in the cases pending before them (Ombudsman), whether they manage to resolve these cases before we conduct the impeachment trial, it will not affect the proceedings because it's already a historical record that indeed, it took the Ombudsman too long to in coming out with a resolution on this (fertilizer fund scam).

"We have a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. But the question there is, is there an evidence to prove that she deliberately sat on the case or disprove the Ombudsman's claims that it took them a long time because they gathered needed evidence, because they felt that there's not enough evidence to support the charges against the persons involved.

"If that is the case, what will happen now to the constitutional provision that give trial judges limited time to dispense of the cases, at least a year. If we would follow this principle, this one-year rule, will it be applicable to the courts or even the Supreme Court except the Ombudsman. It will be difficult to argue this (before the Senate)," she added.

Case vs Cito, Jocjoc to fail - House prosecutors By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated April 17, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The plunder charges being readied by the Office of the Ombudsman against former Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo Jr. and his undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante are designed to fail, House prosecutors said yesterday.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., House justice committee chairman, said the charges against the two former agriculture officials "could suffer the same fate as those filed (with the Sandiganbayan) against (former justice secretary) Nani (Hernando) Perez."

He said the Sandigan dismissed the case against Perez "due to inordinate delay (in its filing)."

Senior committee vice chairman Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas shares his view.

"Precisely, we impeached her for such inordinate delay, which is tantamount to betrayal of public trust, and will prosecute and seek her removal from office by the Senate," Fariñas said.

In dismissing the graft and extortion charges against Perez, the Sandigan ruled that the five-year delay in the filing of the case violated the former justice secretary's rights to due process.

In December 2002, then Manila congressman Mark Jimenez filed a complaint for plunder against Perez, whom he accused of allegedly extorting $2 million from him in exchange for his non-inclusion in the cases against former President Estrada.

The evidence against former President Arroyo's first justice secretary included a paper trail on the funds that Jimenez claimed he had given Perez through banker Ernest Escaler and which had ended up in bank accounts in Switzerland.

In January 2007, Gutierrez filed charges for graft, extortion and falsification against Perez, who was her former boss in the Department of Justice. The charges did not include plunder.

The Sandigan dismissed the charges against Perez in November 2008.

Tupas said Gutierrez's real objective in deciding to file charges against Lorenzo, Bolante and others "is to cover up her deliberate inaction" on the fertilizer fund scam.

He said the Ombudsman intends to use the filing as part of her defense in her coming Senate trial.

"But of course the acts constituting betrayal of public trust have already been committed," he said.

Tupas heads the 11-member House team that will prosecute Gutierrez in her Senate trial, slated to begin when Congress resumes session on May 9.

Fariñas and Rep. Neri Colmenares of the party-list group Bayan Muna are among his team members.

Colmenares said the Ombudsman's belated conclusion of its preliminary investigation into the P728-million fertilizer scam "was intended to lead to its dismissal."

He said Lorenzo, Bolante and other former government officials and private persons whom the Ombudsman would charge before the Sandiganbayan would most likely get off the hook.

He said the Sandigan has ruled in some cases that long delays in the filing of charges against respondents constitute violation of their rights to due process.

He stressed that the decision of the Ombudsman's office to file charges against Lorenzo, Bolante and others would not weaken the impeachment charges against Gutierrez.

"The fact that she took an unreasonable period of time to file the charges is betrayal of public trust," he stressed.

He said the charges against the former agriculture officials "will backfire on the Ombudsman" if the evidence against them is the same as that gathered by the Senate.

Colmenares said Gutierrez "is still trying to protect Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by naming Jocjoc as the mastermind."

The Senate committee on agriculture, chaired by then Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., investigated the fertilizer fund scam in 2006. The committee recommended the filing of appropriate charges against those involved in the irregularity.

The panel tagged Bolante as the brains behind the mishandling of P728 million in fertilizer funds, which Malacañang released to allies of then President Arroyo two months before the May 2004 presidential election.

In that election, Mrs. Arroyo beat the late popular actor Fernando Poe Jr. by about one million votes.

The political opposition then claimed that the fertilizer funds were used to build up Mrs. Arroyo's campaign kitty and ensure her victory in the polls.

Boost for impeachment

Malacañang, meanwhile, said the Ombudsman's move would only "highlight" her faults and strengthen the impeachment case against her.

"I think it doesn't diminish but highlights the inaction that has gone on before. If you remember, the fertilizer fund scam happened in 2004, it was discovered in 2005 and now it's 2011," deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio station dzRB.

"I think the senators will be the best judge of that but given all that has happened, again, it's too little, too late. It's already 2011 and only after a complaint for impeachment has been filed against them, against her, against the office," Valte said.

Valte said they could not tell whether the Ombudsman would start filing more cases.

She noted that issues would have to be dealt with on a case-to-case basis and that legal processes would have to be followed and the rights of those charged respected.

The order to file plunder charges came three weeks before the Senate's convening as an impeachment court on May 9 to try Gutierrez on charges of betrayal of public trust. – With Aurea Calica


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
All rights reserved



[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Recent Activity:
Follow us on Twitter:


To stop receiving our news items, please send a blank e-mail addressed to:

Please visit our homepage at:

(c) Copyright 2009.  All rights reserved.

Find useful articles and helpful tips on living with Fibromyalgia. Visit the Fibromyalgia Zone today!

Stay on top of your group activity without leaving the page you're on - Get the Yahoo! Toolbar now.



PH Headline News Online. Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved