Sandiganbayan affirms acquittal of former Surigao del Norte gov

Published January 17, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

By Czarina Nicole O. Ong

The Sandiganbayan Second Division has affirmed the acquittal of former Surigao del Norte Governor Robert Lyndon Barbers of criminal charges in connection with the purchase of overpriced fertilizers in 2004.

In an 11-page resolution signed on January 12 by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi and concurred in by Oscar Herrera Jr. and Lorifel Pahimna, the court junked the motion filed by the prosecution due to lack of merit.

The court had earlier acquitted Barbers of two graft and two malversation charges. The ruling was issued last November 27, 2017.

The office of the Ombudsman started a fact-finding investigation for the fertilizer fund scam called Task Force Abono in 2006, and they executed the complaint on August 16, 2010 and filed the same on May 2, 2011.

The charges were dropped since the prosecution failed to provide a good reason why it took them five years and nine months to conduct its preliminary investigation. At the same time, the long delay caused prejudice against Barbers.

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 stressed that 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 regards to prejudice against Barbers, the prosecution argued that the former official did not suffer from any vexation or anxiety since he failed to raise any specific detail during the conduct of the preliminary investigation.

But the court found 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. Double jeopardy is the prosecution of a person twice for the same offense.

“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,” the resolution read.

Barbers’ charges stemmed from the purchase of 3,332 kilos of Elements Foliar Fertilizer priced at P1,500 per kilo from a certain Rosa Mia.

Barbers allegedly paid the supplier a total of P4,998,000 (P3,249,000 in May 2004 and P1,749,000 in December 2004) even though it was overpriced at P1,333 per kilo.