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Sandigan junks graft rap vs pork scam whistleblower

The FIfth Division of the Sandiganbayan on Monday promulgated a decision acquitting a pork barrel scam whistleblower, Marina Sula, of graft stemmeing from her alleged involvement in the fertilizer fund scam. File

MANILA, Philippines — Marina Sula, one of the whistleblowers in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, has been acquitted in a graft case in connection with her alleged involvement in the equally controversial P723-million fertilizer fund scam.

In an eight-page resolution promulgated on Monday, the Sandiganbayan's Fifth Division granted Sula's motion to dismiss her case based on the Office of the Ombudsman's supposed violation of her constitutional right to speedy trial.

The Fifth Division said, “Sula is correct in stating that she is similarly situated with her three co-accused – former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, former Department of Agriculture regional technical director Rodolfo Guieb and former regional executive director Dennis Araullo – whose case were already dismissed with finality by the court on the ground of the supposed “inordinate delay” in the ombudsman's investigation."

The court maintained that there was no justifiable reason for the ombudsman to take almost 12 years to investigate the complaint against the respondents before filing the case in court.

“The delay of more than a decade runs afoul of the Constitutional protection afforded by the right to speedy disposition of cases,” the ruling penned by division chairman Associate Justice Rafael Lagos read.

“As this Court has held in the previous resolutions dismissing the case against Sula's co-accused, not only does the prosecution's statement undermine the right to speedy disposition, it also belittles the prejudice [on the respondents] caused by the prolonged pendency of this case,” it added.

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Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega concurred with the ruling.

Filed by the ombudsman last year, the graft case stemmed from the alleged anomalous disbursement of P3.250 million worth of public funds to non-government organization Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation in 2004.

The disbursed fund was supposedly for the purchase of liquid fertilizer as part of the implementation of the Department of Agriculture's Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Program.

The ombudsman said Reyes approved the release of the fund to MAMFI without the conduct of a public bidding and despite the NGO's failure to complete its accreditation documents to qualify as a project implementer.

Sula served as the president of MAMFI although she had been claiming that the alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles owned and controlled it.

Napoles was never included in several fertilizer scam cases filed by the ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan. She, however, is currently detained for plunder cases in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Based on the court's records, it was in May 2004 when the ombudsman started its fact-finding investigation against Reyes, Guieb, Araullo and Sula, yet it was only in September 2016 when it finished its probe and filed the case in court.

“Absent dilatory tactics by the respondents or exceptional circumstances that might warrant delay, of which none were shown in this case, the Ombudsman is burdened with this responsibility (to promptly resolve the case) and the prosecution cannot pass the buck on the accused,” the court said.

Sula still has a pending graft case in another division of the Sandiganbayan in connection with the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.

Sula and the other whistleblowers, including Napoles' second cousin Benhur Luy, are currently under the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice. They enjoy immunity from prosecution but only as far as the pork barrel scam cases are concerned.

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