Sandiganbayan clears Bolante of plunder in 'fertilizer fund scam'

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The country's anti-graft court

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Over a decade after the news about an alleged "fertilizer fund scam" hit the headlines, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocely "Joc-joc" Bolante has been cleared of plunder charges in relation to a P723M program for farmers.

The Sandiganbayan said it found no probable cause against Bolante — who was accused of being a key player in the supposed fund misuse — as prosecutors failed to produce evidence to prove he committed plunder. The announcement was made to the media on Monday.

Bolante and nine others had been charged for allegedly pocketing over P265M from from funds meant for the purchase of fertilizers. The amount was said to have been used instead for the campaign of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she ran for president in 2004. A number of congressional hearings were carried out on this and a plunder case was eventually filed in 2011.

Related: SC releases decision to dismiss plunder case vs Arroyo

For Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, the anti-graft court's decision marked "a sad day" for anti-corruption efforts.

"Napakaraming pagdinig na ginawa ng Senado at Kongreso at lumalabas nga kaya nagrekomenda maghain ng kaso dahil talagang talamak ang corrupion at that time at ginamit itong patronage politics specially during the Arroyo administration," he said.

[Translation: The Senate and the House launched a series of hearings over this. Charges were recommended because corruption was rampant during that time.]

Rep. Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list aired similar sentiments.

"Ako malungkot na malungkot dyan," he said. "Unbelievable naman na pagtapos ng pagkadami-dami ng ebidensya na nakuha ng Senado, siya ngayon ay maabswelto. May problema talaga sa Ombudsman at sa Sandiganbayan."

[Translation: I am very sad about this development. It's unbelievable that after so many pieces of evidence from the Senate, he will be absolved. There's really something wrong with the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan.]