Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bagman in fertilizer mess hunted

A third man allegedly involved in the fertilizer fund mess is being tracked down by the National Bureau of Investigation and the National Police so he can testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, identified the prospective witness as Jimmy Paule whom he described as the “bagman” or “financier” in the irregular transactions.

Last Friday, Jose Barredo, the alleged “runner” of the group handling the fertilizer subsidy program, testified before the committee that the Feshan liquid fertilizer distributed to farmers was grossly overpriced while project proponents, including congressmen, governors and mayors received huge kickbacks or bribe money.

Barredo, who is based in Western Visayas, said he worked in tandem with another runner, Maritess Aytona, allegedly the group’s leader. He also testified that he and Aytona coordinated with Paule who supposedly gave them a list of project proponents.

Gordon noted that while Barredo linked Aytona to former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, the alleged architect of the fertilizer fund scam, his committee has yet to establish any link between Paule and Bolante.

“Paule appears to be somebody who distributed the money. But I do not know yet if he is Bolante’s man. That is why I want to summon him to appear in the next hearing,” the senator from Olongapo City told Senate reporters.

Gordon said the committee has yet to determine if Paule is connected with Malacañang. He added that Paule “may know a lot about this; he appears to be the financier.”

He has requested the NBI and National Police to locate Aytona and Paule after Aytona failed to appear before the committee hearing Friday. He said Aytona’s testimony is very vital in verifying the alleged misuse of the fund.

“Barredo and Aytona orchestrated everything. She really has to come out and explain how they did it ,” the senator said.

Gordon revealed that Aytona’s lawyer had contacted him and arranged a meeting with her at l a.m. Friday. He said he took the opportunity to convince Aytona to come forward and testify on what he knew about the fertilizer scandal.

“I told her that she has to attend the hearing so she can explain what really transpired. I want to ask her where the money came from, to whom they distributed the money, and how they were able to enter easily the offices of the recipients,” he said.

Aytona failed to attend Friday’s hearing because she was rushed to the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City due to high blood pressure.

According to Gordon, Aytona already sent word that she will show up at the next hearing set for Dec. 8. “I received a note from Aytona, assuring me that she intends to appear in the next hearing. But she will have a different lawyer.” By Fel V. Maragay - Manila Standard Today

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