Sandigan sustains ex-Surigao Norte gov Barbers acquittal for fertilizer fund scam

It’s final–the antigraft court Sandiganbayan has affirmed the acquittal of former Surigao del Norte Governor Robert Lyndon Barbers for graft and malversation in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of P4.9-million worth of fertilizers in 2004.

In an 11-page resolution dated Jan.12 , the court’s Second Division denied the appeal of state prosecutors on the November 27, 2017 resolution that junked two graft and two malversation charges against Barbers for lack of merit.

The court said the prosecution raised nothing new and substantial in their arguments, since these have already been thoroughly considered and passed upon last year.

The court also highlighted the constitutional prescription against double jeopardy, which Barbers will be subjected to if the prosecution’s Motion for Reconsideration (MR) was granted.

“The court finds that the total period of 10 years and nine months in the conduct of fact-finding investigation and preliminary investigation is unjustified. Ultimately, the prosecution failed to satisfactorily explain the cause of the delay,” read the resolution .

The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi and concurred in by Oscar Herrera Jr. and Lorifel Pahimna.

The Nov. 27 decision cited the prosecution’s inordinate delay in investigating the case as it took them five years and nine months to bring the case to the court, which grossly violated the rights of Barbers to speedy disposition of cases.

In a motion for reconsideration, the Office of the Special Prosecutor asked the Sandiganbayan to reverse its decision acquitting Barbers, and maintained that the Ombudsman was able to prove that the former official was guilty of the charges.

Also, the prosecution argued that the concept of speedy disposition was relative and flexible. While it was true that Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Technical Service Office memorandum on Barbers’ case was issued on May 2006, the Office of the Ombudsman still had to conduct a separate and independent fact-finding investigation to verify the information pertaining to the fertilizer fund scam.

The prosecution pointed out the court should distinguish the period spent during the conduct of the fact-finding investigation and the period spent in conducting the preliminary investigation.

With regard to the prejudice against Barbers’s right to speedy disposition of cases, the prosecution argued that the former governor did not suffer from any vexation or anxiety since he failed to raise any specific detail during the conduct of the preliminary investigation.

Court records showed Barbers and seven other individuals were accused of causing undue injury to the government when the province skipped public bidding in procuring 3,332 kilograms of Elements foliar fertilizer.

Instead, the province resorted to direct contracting in two instances in May and December 2004. Prosecutors alleged the purchases were overpriced ninefold and tailored fit to favor an exclusive distributor. By GD Photo/Jojo Ferol

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