MALACANANG  CRITICIZES  PANEL  REPORT ON FERTILIZER FUND SCAM

MANILA
, March 3, 2006, (BULLETIN) By FERDIE J. MAGLALANG - Malacañang yesterday decried as "political harassment" the joint Senate panel report holding President Arroyo accountable for the alleged mismanagement of the P728-million fertilizer fund that was allegedly used to finance her campaign kitty in the last elections.

"The (joint) Senate (panel) report is political harassment of the highest order. There is nothing in the facts that links the President to the fertilizer fund. We have nothing to hide but we will not stoop down to the level of media grandstanding," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in an official statement.

Two joint Senate committees - the Agriculture and Blue Ribbon - in a report held the President responsible for allowing her appointee, former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, to use the government fertilizer subsidy for her 2004 campaign.

The two panels stood firm on their conviction that R728-million out of the R4.4-billion agriculture modernization fund was diverted by Bolante, who has reportedly been in hiding, to the campaign of Mrs. Arroyo.

Following the report, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) created a special operations team to investigate the alleged involvement of incumbent presidential appointees in the fertilizer fund scam.

PAGC Chairman Constancia de Guzman said in a statement that the creation of a special operations team was upon the instruction of the President to "study the modus operandi" of the alleged fertilizer fund scam.

The R728-million that was the subject of the Senate probe was earmarked for fertilizers for farmers and was purportedly distributed to lawmakers and officials allied with the Arroyo administration to secure Mrs. Arroyo’s victory.

Meanwhile, two Department of Agriculture (DA) officials implicated by the Senate Agriculture and Blue Ribbon Committees in the fertilizer scam welcomed yesterday the filing of charges against them before the Office of the Ombudsman, saying this will clear their names.

"We welcome the decision of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture to forward the findings of its investigation on the alleged misuse of the multi-million peso fertilizer funds to the Office of the Ombudsman. Should the Ombudsman file formal charges against us, it will give us the opportunity to air our side and clear our names," Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales and Assistant Secretary Jose Felix Montes said in a joint statement.

Gonzales and Montes, however, decried the Senate handling of the probe, charging that it "elected to release its findings on a piecemeal basis." (with reports from Edgard Hilario)


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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