Impeach trial likely to implicate several R-12 pols – Rep. Fuentes

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 April) – Several current and former local government officials here and in the neighboring areas might be dragged into the alleged multimillion fertilizer scam once the Senate trial of the impeachment case against Ombudsman Meceditas Gutierrez unravels next month.

South Cotabato 2nd District Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, public relations specialist of the House of Representatives’ prosecution panel in the impeachment trial, said Tuesday some local officials who were supposedly involved and benefited from the scam may be called in to appear during the trial.

She did not name any local official who was allegedly involved in the scam but cited that she might be called to shed light on the matter since South Cotabato was earlier identified as among the beneficiaries of the P728 million fertilizer funds.

Fuentes was governor of South Cotabato when the alleged fertilizer scam happened, in early 2004.

“This is something that we really can’t deny. Most local government units, including South Cotabato province, supposedly benefited from this and I think we have the responsibility to answer some questions that were still hanging in the air,” she said.

Fuentes had repeatedly denied any involvement in the mess and vowed to help prosecute some local officials who might have taken part in it.

The Office of the Ombudsman earlier approved the filing of criminal charges against at least 20 personalities, including former secretary Luis “Cito” Ramon Lorenzo of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and DA Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante in connection with the fertilizer scam.

In a 134-page joint resolution, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro gave the go-signal for filing charges of plunder, malversation, technical malversation and violation of the anti-graft law against all accused over the disbursement of some P728 million in fertilizer funds under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani of the Agriculture department.

The scam involved accusations that Bolante diverted the P728 million to the campaign kitty of then-President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga in the 2004 national and local elections.

The Ombudsman’s supposed inaction on the fertilizer scam was among the six items cited by the House of Representatives that constitute “betrayal of public trust” when it impeached Gutierrez last month.

Meantime, Fuentes said the House prosecution panel assigned in the Gutierrez impeachment case will take advantage of the Holy Week break to further build up their case and strategies for the upcoming Senate trial.

She said they divided the prosecution into at least six teams to work independently on various aspects of the case, especially in the gathering of evidences and witnesses in time for the start of the trial on May 9.

“We’re officially on a break but we all brought home some important assignments that need to be accomplished during the week,” she said.

Fuentes, a lawyer, said each of the six prosecution teams have assigned lawyers from the 11-man panel and the House roster and supported by their staff members.

She said they decided to split the prosecution teams to ensure more focus and independence in their assignments as well as maintain the confidentiality of their cases’ developments and strategies.

Fuentes said the teams were discouraged from engaging with the media and other persons outside of the prosecution panel on matters regarding the impeachment case, especially the “nitty-gritty” part.

“Only a few people really know what’s happening right now with regard to the overall work of the prosecution panel and we want to maintain that level of confidentiality to prevent possible leakages later on,” she said.

Fuentes said they mainly want to protect their documented evidences and the identity of the key witnesses that they would present during the trial.

“Overall, our work has been progressing as planned and I think we’ll be ready by the time the trial begins,” she added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)