"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Monday, January 26, 2009

Senate concludes probe on P728-million fertilizer fund scam

The Senate blue ribbon committee today said it is temporarily concluding its investigation into the P728-million fertilizer project as it readies its preliminary report on the findings and recommendations concerning the alleged anomalous fertilizer project.

Independent Senator Richard Gordon, committee chairman, said that after conducting eight public hearings, the panel has already gathered strong evidence against those public and private individuals implicated in the implementation of the project.

"I am submitting a preliminary report on all the hearings that I have conducted. There are still (pieces of) evidence that are forthcoming, like the bank accounts, the bank checks that I want clarified, as well as the shipping documents," he said.

"In effect, we already have enough, in our view, to be able to recommend the filing of cases against these people by the Ombudsman, and most importantly, introduce significant amendments to pertinent laws," he added.

Among these laws the Senate is introducing as a result of its probe into the fertilizer fund mess include the Anti-Money Laundering Law, Bank Secrecy Law, Procurement Act as well as amendments to the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

"It is not the task of the committee to prosecute. The main task of the Blue Ribbon Committee is to find the truth; look at the gaps and loopholes in our existing laws; and proposed amendments to those laws," Gordon said.

While the committee has gathered enough evidence against those involved in the fertilizer project and is ready to make a preliminary report, Gordon explained the panel would re-open the investigation once new information or witnesses would come out.

According to the senator, the committee has established the involvement of the characters involved in the fertilizer fund mess, stressing that there appears to be a conspiracy among the witnesses who appeared before the panel.

Gordon said former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante is evidently involved in the implementation of the project as testified by Department of Agriculture (DA) regional directors, and not merely in downloading funds.

Meanwhile, businessman Jaime Paule, despite continuous denials that he is not involved and does not recognize other witnesses called to testify before the Senate, is deeply involved in the project as proven by documentary and testimonial evidence.

During the Senate hearings, Marites Aytona, Leonicia Llarena and Marilyn Araos have all pointed out that it was Paule who talked them into joining in the scheme to DA's farm input-farm implement project.

Aytona said it was Paule who asked her to make project proposals and gave out instructions on which foundations would be accredited for the project.

Araos, a "runner" for the said project for local government units in Regions III and IV, said she was ordered by Paule to open a bank account for Feshan Philippines, threatening her that she would lose her job if she would refuse to comply with his orders.

For her part, Llarena, owner of Dane Publishing and the alleged financier of the project, also testified that it was Paule who approached her to seek assistance in issuing "accommodation checks" for Feshan, the biggest supplier in the fertilizer project.

Gordon said that while these witnesses have testified against Paule, it would not get them "out of the woods" since it has been established that they were also part of the implementation of the project.

"They all appear to be conspirators in this project. In a conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all," he said.

He added that even Feshan executives Julie Gregorio and Redentor Antolin have their own faults insofar as the fertilizer project is concerned because they have agreed to enter into transactions involving DA funds despite irregularities.

Gordon said it is a dubious act to have Araos, who is not a Feshan employee, become the sole signatory of the Feshan account opened in Landbank Elliptical branch.

"It would appear that there is strong ground to declare some of these people in contempt. Everybody is pointing to one another, everybody is being evasive," he said.

"What we have now is a very, very big case that we can recommend now to the Ombudsman. There is certainly ground for contempt but I am more interested in the big picture, which is the case," he added.

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