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Two former DA Region 1 execs get jail time over fertilizer scam

The Sandiganbayan has found two former Department of Agriculture (DA) officials in Region 1 guilty of six counts of graft in connection with the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.

Francisco Casil, former chief administrative officer and Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) chairman, and Lourdes Gonzales, former budget officer, were meted with a 36- to 60-year jail time for all six counts, the court said in a 38-page decision.

The case involved the purchase of P3.4 million worth of liquid fertilizer bottles without public bidding.

Aside from jail time, the two were also ordered to return the P3.4 million worth of public funds used to pay for the fertilizers, with 6% legal interest from the finality of the decision.

"There was no document adduced in evidence that the BAC conducted the opening of bids, bid evaluation, post qualification, contract signing, and issuance of the notice to proceed in the procurements of bottles of Farmate HMZ 2000 and Algazinc Plus," the Sandiganbayan said.

The Sandiganbayan said the procurement of Farmate HMZ 2000 was neither advertised in a newspaper of general circulation nor posted on the website and conspicuous places in the premises of DA Region 1.

While the procurement for 584 bottles of Algazinc Plus need not be advertised in a newspaper of general circulation because their Approved Budget of Contract was below P2 million, the Sandiganbayan said the Instructions to Bidders (ITB) should have been posted on the website and conspicuous places in the premises of  DA Region 1.

DA execs' defense

In their defense, Casil and Gonzales testified that Farmate HMZ 2000 and Algazine Plus were procured through direct contracting because the suppliers were the exclusive distributors of the liquid foliar fertilizers.

Casil testified that FITI and CLFAC were the exclusive distributors of Farmate HMZ 2000 and Algazinc Plus, respectively, per the canvass made by the Property Division. Casil, however, said they did not secure a certification  from the FPA or DA Regional Technical Director or the suppliers themselves.

Gonzales, on the other hand, said BAC only verified the  alleged exclusive distributorship of FITI and CLFAC and the lack of sub dealers or suitable substitutes at lower prices after the ITBs were posted.

But according to the Sandiganbayan, their defenses were unsubstantiated. It also pointed out that Gonzales himself testified that aside from FITI and CLFAC, there are other suppliers of liquid foliar fertilizers.

No documentary proof

"Accused Casil and Gonzales failed to present any document to prove the claim that FITI and CLFAC were exclusive distributors of Farmate HMZ 2000 and Algazine Plus, that there were no sub-dealers who can sell the same liquid foliar fertilizers at lower prices, and that there were no suitable substitutes in the market at more advantageous terms," the court said.

The Sandiganbayan also said the canvass forms of FITI and CLFAC did not state that they are exclusive distributors or manufacturers of Farmate HMZ 2000 and Algazinc Plus, respectively. Instead, the canvass forms showed they are sold at P1,500 per bottle.

"While the DA RFU I and farmer-beneficiaries preferred the brands  Farmate HMZ 2009 and Algazinc Plus, this should not dissuade the BAC from procuring the liquid foliar fertilizers through public bidding because branding is not allowed under R.A. No. 9184 (Procurement law)," the Sandiganbayan said.

The anti-graft court also said the two failed to prove that the fertilizers were distributed to intended beneficiaries. —KBK, GMA Integrated News