Fighting a giant: My battle vs. Drilon’s corruption much like Elliot Ness crusade vs. Al Capone

When I was in hospital confinement a week ago, I got to watch the movie, “The Untouchables” once more. The first time I watched it was over 30 years ago. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch it again.

At once, it dawned upon me that there’s a parallel between the anti-crime crusade waged by Elliot Ness, the Bureau of Treasury agent portrayed by Kevin Costner, against American crime don Al Capone, to the anti-corruption exposes I have been pursuing on the projects of Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon.

Like Agent Ness, I was a lone investigative journalist who set out on a mission to unmask the Herculian corruption in the DAP-funded projects of Drilon. At the start, I had the help of Rommel Ynion and friends in the media. But I found myself fighting alone during most of this year, 2020, especially after my conviction for libel became final and executory.

It was a tough battle right from the start. Drilon was at the height of his powers as Senate President when I began my crusade. He was unsparing in using his clout and influence to put pressure on me to quit. He filed libel cases. He had the Iloilo City council declare me persona non grata. He looked the other way when drug lords in Iloilo City had hitmen tail me, looking for the slightest opening to kill me.

And when the Senate Blue Ribbon committee conducted an investigation on November 13, 2014, Drilon put his PR machinery at work to discredit me. Drilon made it appear that my expose on the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) was a dud. I was ridiculed by mainstream media on his payroll. The Philippine Daily Inquirer even did an editorial about that expose, chastising me for daring to come forward without evidence (kuno).

That Blue Ribbon committee investigation propaganda roll-out against me was like Elliot Ness having his picture splash on newspaper front pages holding a Japanese umbrella taken from what he thought was a crate full of bootlegged whisky from Canada.

Drilon was unforgiving. The first wave of libel cases he filed before the Pasay City RTC resulted in a conviction even if he didn’t testify in court as complainant. That deprived me of my Constitutional right to confront my accuser. The court ignored this assertion that a Constitutional right had been violated. We took the case to the Court of Appeals. In quick fashion, the appeal was denied.

Our last chance was the Supreme Court. I was certain that the Constitutional issue would merit a full discussion from the High Court and contribute to libel jurisprudence. Unfortunately, our appeal was thrown out to the trash bin without much of a judicial review.

Drilon wanted to stop my exposes at all costs. He didn’t care if democratic institutions were being prostituted in the process. He didn’t care if an innocent man would go to prison for telling the truth. All he needed was to stop me from exposing his corruption.

When the Pasay RTC convicted me, it meted a penalty of imprisonment that fell within the range to make me eligibile for parole. It was the easy path to take if I wanted to stay out of jail. But I knew that Drilon would use that to wrap a chain of silence around me. With a parole, I would have had to avoid risking another libel case.

No. I refused to be silenced. I knew it was already an uphill battle with the conviction. The naive part of me said I might have a chance at getting justice in the appeals process. After all, the Constitutional issue was a serious matter that needed to be resolved by the higher courts. I had misplaced faith in the judiciary.

Drilon’s power and influence proved more immense than the integrity of the judiciary. Without squarely addressing the Constitutional issue I had raised, my appeal was shot down quickly, first by the Court of Appeals, then the Supreme Court Third Division. My right to confront my accuser as guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution was conveniently ignored. There is no mention about it.

I got word that Drilon, through his lawyers, fast-tracked the issuance of a certificate of finality of the decision. In a matter of two or three weeks, the case records took an express train from the Supreme Court to the Pasay RTC. By Dec. 10, 2019, the Pasay RTC issued a warrant of arrest for me to be thrown into jail and serve the jail sentence.

Had it not been for the Covid 19 pandemic, I would have voluntarily surrendered to the authorities in the 3rd week of March this year. Even though I was a victim of injustice, I was ready to go to jail. I want to demonstrate to Drilon that prison doesn’t scare me. I told myself that my incarceration will have the effect of throwing him inside prison, too. It’s the prison of conscience. I know he knows what grave wrongs he has done not only to me, but to the Filipino nation as well.

Covid 19 gave me the time and space to continue exposing Drilon. I made up my mind to use my energy as a free man to inform the Filipino people the many sins he has committed. The fight for the truth did not end with my conviction becoming final and executory. I prayed that these exposes would reach the attention of President Rodrigo Duterte. I am willing to sacrifice my own liberty just so Drilon’s corruption do not lie hidden.

I will fight until the end. To borrow a quotation from the film that starred Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, “never stop to fight till the fight is done.”

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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