Senator Lito Lapid, Others to Go on Trial for Fertilizer Scam

QUEZON CITY — Actor and outgoing senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid will go on trial for his involvement in the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.
 This as the Sandiganbayan first division found probable cause against the senator in graft charges filed before it by the Ombudsman even as he insisted he did not commit any wrongdoing.

The court stated in its resolution that after perusing the information and evaluating the resolution of the prosecutor, the evidence in support of the charges and the records of the preliminary investigation,  sufficient grounds exists for the finding of probable cause.
Aside from Lapid, those to go on trial are his co-accused Pampanga provincial account Benjamin Yuzon and provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut along with three private individuals, namely, Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino, incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corp. (MPTC) and Dexter Alexander Vasquez, proprietor of D.A. Vasquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources (DAVMMFR).
 Lapid and his co-accused have already posted P30,000 bail. Lapid was accused of the charges while he was governor of Pampanga
Lapid, who is winding up his term as senator, is running for mayor of Angeles City. His son Mark Lapid, also a former actor and governor of Pampanga and now a top tourism official, is a candidate for senator under the Liberal Party (LP).

According to Sandiganbayan First Division clerk of court Estella Teresita Rosete, the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the accused was no longer needed as they had posted bail .
The anti-graft court though ordered the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to prevent the accused from leaving the country..
In May 2004, the provincial government of Pampanga during the incumbency of Lapid as governor, purchased from MPTC 3,880 liters of liquid fertilizers formulated by DAVMMFR amounting to P4.761 million.
The Office of the Ombudsman in its information said the purchase was done without public bidding as required under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The respondents, according to the Ombudsman, also violated the procurement rules by resorting to direct purchasing “despite the availability of a suitable substitute offered at a much lower price in the locality.”
It alleged that it was Lapid who certified that there was no suitable substitute to MPTC’s Macro-Micro Foliar Fertilizer, which paved way for the provincial government to unlawfully resort to the direct purchase agreement.
It was pointed out in the information that specification of a brand name in a purchase request was also a violation of the procurement rules under RA 9184.
The anti-graft body also cited the “inordinate speed” in the consummation of the transaction between the provincial government and the private respondents.
It was on May 12, 2004 when Vasquez’s DAVMMFR submitted the price quotation for the fertilizer products. The Ombudsman said that on May 24, 2004 Lapid had already issued the purchase order and on the same day, delivery was supposedly made.
On May 26, full payment was made by the provincial government to MPTC, thus, the full transaction was allegedly completed in a span of 14 days.
It was also found by the Ombudsman that MPTC was not authorized supplier fertilizer products as it has no product registration and certificate of license to operate.
Also, the purchased items were not registered with the Fertilizer Pesticide Authority (FPA) as it was only in August 2005 when DAVMMFR applied for Product Registration with the FPA.
The Ombudsman also stated the purchased items were overpriced by as much as P4.268 million as the fertilizer was sold at P1,250 per liter when its real value was only P150 per liter, “thereby causing undue injury to the government.”
Section 3(e) of RA 3019 prohibits a public official from causing any undue injury to any party, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions.
On the other hand, Section 3(g) of RA 3019 prohibits the act of entering, on behalf of the government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government, “whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.
The money for the purchase of the questioned items supposedly came from the P728-million funds of the Department of Agriculture for its “Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Program.”
The charges were denied by Lapid and has said he is ready to answer the charges lodged before the anti-graft court.


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