SC revives graft case vs Lapid, others over alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam

(Eagle News) — The Supreme Court second division has revived the graft case filed against now-Senator Lito Lapid over the so-called P728-million fertilizer scam when he was Pampanga provincial governor.

In reversing the Sandiganbayan’s decision to dismiss the case also against  private individuals Victoria Aquino Abubakar, Leolita Aquino and Dexter Alexander S.D. Vasquez, the division noted that the Sandiganbayan “gravely abused its discretion” when it did this supposedly due to inordinate delay.

The division noted that the case commenced on May 2, 2011, upon the filing of the complaint.

The fact-finding investigation which precedes the filing, it said, was excluded from determining the extent of the delay.

“At any rate, the Sandiganbayan, in its resolution dated Sept. 30, 2016, observed that there was no evidence to show that the Ombudsman indeed commenced and conducted a fact-finding investigation as early as 2006. On the contrary, the subpoenas which Lapid et al themselves submitted in evidence were addressed to various government offices but not to them. Thus the fact-finding investigation could not have been vexatious, capricious and oppressive as to them,” the division said.

The division said the Ombudsman panel found probable cause to indict Lapid and the group on Sept. 18, 2013, or two years and four months from the filing of the complaint.

The Ombudsman panel’s recommendation was approved by the Ombudsman on June 3, 2014, which means the length of time consumed for the preliminary investigation was three years and one month, according to the division.

“In sum, delay becomes inordinate only in the presence of arbitrary, vexatious and oppressive actions or inactions that are discernible from the proceedings. No such delay attended the Ombudsman’s proceedings that would warrant the dismissal of the criminal case against herein respondents,” the division noted, adding that Lapid and the group also “allowed a considerable time to lapse before they invoked their right to a speedy disposition of the case.”

“The Sandiganbayan is directed to resolve the criminal case with reasonable dispatch,” the division concluded.

The division’s decision stems from the petition for certiorari filed by the Ombudsman then led by  Conchita Carpio-Morales following the Sandiganbayan dismissal of the case.