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Syjuco couple charged in P6.2 million ghost cellphone deal

PRESS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman has filed criminal charges against 2nd district Rep. Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco and his wife Judy for conspiracy to commit estafa, falsification of public documents and violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices law in connection with the ghost purchase of 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 cell phones in December 2004 before the Sandiganbayan.

In a 21-page verified complaint filed by the Field Investigation Office (FIO) of the Ombudsman, the spouses Syjuco were pinpointed as the masterminds for this “shrewdly crafted” scheme to defraud the government based on documents and testimonies submitted by former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada.

“The sad part of the entire transaction was that everything was only on paper… nothing more!” the complaint said. “In other words, the money was delivered to and received by the supplier without actual delivery of the cellphone units,” it added.

Mejorada expressed jubilation upon receiving a copy of the complaint yesterday. The complaint was dated April 4, 2011.

“This is a vindication for me after the Syjucos tried to make it appear that my accusations are fabricated,” Mejorada said. “The Ombudsman had no choice but to file charges because of the overwhelming evidence I submitted,” he added.

The Ombudsman FIO also filed an administrative case of misconduct against members of the DOTC bids and awards committee (BAC) for resolving “in scandalous haste” the contract for the 1,582 units of cell phones seven days before the supplier submitted a certification from Smart Communications that he was an exclusive dealer of the company.

The complaint asked for the preventive suspension of these BAC members.

The Ombudsman validated the narration of facts made by Mejorada on what transpired in this anomalous transaction, particularly the involvement of the Syjuco spouses in getting the transaction done.

It noted that then 2nd district Rep. Judy Syjuco wrote DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza informing him about the issuance of two (2) special allotment release orders (SARO) for P6.249.528.00 for a supposed communications project for her constituency.

Mrs. Syjuco made a request that the agency use the alternative mode of procurement thru direct contracting.

The Ombudsman noticed that Mrs. Syjuco’s letter was dated almost simultaneously as the SAROs. “Apparently, Rep. Judy Syjuco already had prior knowledge about her realignment of funds,” the investigators noted.

Her letter was received by Mendoza’s office on Dec. 20, 2004.

The next day, Dec. 21, the BAC granted Mrs. Syjuco’s request and adopted a resolution authorizing direct contracting with a favored supplier, who had already submitted a letter quotation to her office.

The investigators pointed out that it was Rep. Judy Syjuco who had contacted the supplier to submit a letter quotation as the project was never published in the first place.

Even then, the graft probers established that the supplier’s certification as a Smart distributor was issued only on January 4, 2005, or 12 days after the letter quotation was submitted.

The government procurement law allows agencies to resort to direct contracting on items that are supplied by a company as exclusive dealer.

The certification itself was found to have been “shrewdly crafted” to make it appear that the supplier was a distributor for cellphones when his company was actually a distributor for “Smart e-Load”, the investigators said.

The probers described the supplier’s use and submission of the certification as “a deceit of the highest order.”

Interestingly, the DOTC had issued a purchase order for these cell phones on Dec. 23, 2004, or five days before the BAC issued a resolution awarding the contract to the supplier.

“In short, all the documents relative to the purchase of the communications equipment were prepared in scandalous haste in order to beat the deadline of Dec. 31,” the complaint said.

The complaint gave credence to the transcript of the broadcast aired over Aksyon Radyo on the interview with Director Venancio Santidad, head of the DOTC’s Procurement, Supply and Property Management Service (PSMPS) in which he named then TESDA secretary Augusto Syjuco as the one personally making follow-ups for the transaction.

The Ombudsman probers obtained testimony from Smart Communications officers to the effect that the supplier never bought Smart Nokia 1100 cell phones from the telecommunications giant.

In addition, the complaint disclosed that then Sta. Barbara municipal mayor Isabelo Maquino stated, under oath, that he had never received the cell phones as the documents tried to make it appear. His signature on the Invoice Receipt for Property was forged, Maquino said.

“In fine, the former congresswoman, (Rep. Judy Syjuco) indubitably had a direct hand in the submission of a spuriously signed document made as basis for DOTC to issue the disbursement voucher and the eventual issuance of LBP check for payment to the supplier,” the complaint said.

The complaint also listed two DOTC inspectors as co-conspirators, for, “without their assistance, the crimes could not have been consummated.” (30)

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No return, no exchange

Former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr. holds the singular distinction of having been indicted by the beleaguered Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, twice in a three-year period.

In January 2007, Tupas was slapped the penalty of dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public office for allegedly pocketing P20,000 that the Iloilo provincial government gave a national organization of provincial board members as financial assistance. Tupas stood his ground and refused to step down as he questioned the order before the Court of Appeals. It was nothing more than political persecution, he believed, because he withdrew his allegiance to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was among the governors who sympathized with the Hyatt 10 over the “Hello, Garci” issue and stuck to the Liberal Party position of fighting the corrupt administration of GMA.

Tupas knew the risks, but he stood firm on principle. When the dismissal order came, he refused to kneel and beg before GMA through her lieutenant, then DOJ secretary Raul M. Gonzalez. This steadfastness nearly proved deadly. The GMA administration, using the Ombudsman order of dismissal, sent 300 heavily armed policemen to storm the Iloilo Capitol to forcibly remove Tupas. The timely fax transmission of a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals in Cebu stopped the policemen in their tracks as they prepared for the final assault to break open the door to the governor’s office. People would have been hurt, or lives even lost, had that happened.

Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman order was invalid. Tupas was denied due process, and the penalty of dismissal was an overkill in relation to the alleged offense he committed. This is a classic example of the distorted sense of justice that Gutierrez dispenses: protect the plunderers while sending the small fry to the gas chambers. And this was clearly a fabricated charge that had no basis in truth and in fact.

As the wheels of justice ground to a complete halt in its supposed investigation of mega-anomalies like the ZTE-NBN scandal, P720-million fertilizer fund scam, the multi-million highway robbery of Boboy Syjuco, the Ombudsman’s machinery was revving when it came to cases filed against Tupas.

Just two weeks before the May 10, 2010 elections, the Ombudsman handed down the second decision on the supposed irregularity in the grant of a quarry permit to a businessman in Iloilo. This is now the case that leaped to the centerstage in this epic impeachment drama. In the most stupid of stupidity, the Ombudsman, through Over-all Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, ruled that Tupas should suffer the severe penalty of dismissal from office AGAIN in the administrative aspect of the case.

But, as the stupid decision put it, Tupas was absolved of any liability in the administrative case under the Aguinaldo doctrine. Tupas overwhelmingly won over his opponent in the 2007 local elections by a 220,000 vote margin, which extinguishes his administrative liability, if ever, over an alleged offense committed in 2004. Any lawyer would know that the proper thing to do, as the case was filed in 2008, was to dismiss the administrative complaint outright on the basis of the Aguinaldo doctrine. Gutierrez, hiding behind Casimiro, did not. She used the case to harass Tupas.

Anyway, the criminal complaint was rushed to the Sandiganbayan less than 24 hours after the resolution was penned. The indictment served another purpose — negative propaganda against Tupas, who was running for Congressman of the 4th district of Iloilo against incumbent Rep. Ferjenel Biron. It was an express train that was intended to throw Tupas off-balance trying to fend off a warrant of arrest two weeks before the elections. Actually, the plan was to keep it under wraps and spring an ambush on Tupas by serving him a warrant of arrest a few days before the elections. It was by accident that I stumbled upon the story through the ABS-CBN website at 5 o’ clock a.m. The element of surprise was deleted.

Tupas filed a motion for reconsideration on the decision shortly afterwards. He lost to Biron in the face of super-massive vote buying, but his son, Niel Jr., trounced his first cousin, Rolex T. Suplico, the 5th district of Iloilo. As fate would have it, Rep. Niel Jr. was chosen to become chairman of the House justice committee, and it was on his laps that two impeachment complaints were lodged against Merceditas Gutierrez. The younger Tupas didn’t ask to be made justice committee chair; he didn’t orchestrate the filing of impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

Sometime in the 2nd week of September 2010, Tupas was surprised to find Casimiro waiting at his office. The House justice committee had commence its work on the complaints, and had in fact poisted to vote on the sufficiency in form and substance. Casimiro engaged Tupas, in the presence of his legal assistant, Atty. Joenar Pueblo, in light talk about his father’s case. “It was really weak right from the start,” Tupas quoted Casimiro as saying. But the deputy ombudsman said he was ordered to indict the older Tupas just the same. It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out who could order him to do that.

“Then, Casimiro told me the case can be dismissed by way of approving the pending motion for reconsideration,” Rep. Tupas said. Casimiro’s voice dropped in a conspirational whisper: “What can you offer the Ombudsman in exchange?”

It was a horse-trade that Casimiro had proposed — unethical, illegal and unprofessional. The Ombudsman will drop the case against the father provided the son treats Gutierrez with leniency and allow her to squirm her way out of the impeachment. A very tempting offer, indeed, said Tupas.

But Tupas said “no”. His father will face the case squarely. He will not hide. He will not drop to his knees and pray for reversal of the indictment. “I cannot abandon my principles in exchange for my father’s case,” the younger Tupas said. The former governor agreed. The same issue had been decided by a Regional Trial Court in Iloilo in 2005 after a full-blown trial. The quarry permit was validly issued, the individual who obtained it was qualified, and then Gov. Tupas did nothing wrong. That decision was, and is, the best evidence in favor of Gov. Tupas.

Rep. Tupas revealed this secret offer immediately after the Ombudsman, again through Casimiro, rejected the motion for reconsideration. “I didn’t disclose it earlier because I didn’t want to sidetrack the focus,” Rep. Tupas said. “But I continued to fulfill my mandate despite this sword of Damocles hanging over the head of my father,” he added. Now that the Ombudsman had revived the case in apparent retaliation to the unshakable principle shown by the younger Tupas, he felt this attempt to bargain with him had to be exposed.

Casimiro, as expected, denied having tried to lobby for his boss. But he can’t hide the fact that he visited the office of Rep. Tupas in September. I am told there was even a second visit in which Gov. Tupas was present; Casimiro came to reiterate the offer. The logbooks would show that he went to see the son at his office. Was it just a social call? Did Casimiro go there to have coffee and just engage in friendly banter? He was the one who signed the original decision, as often happens when Gutierrez wants to wash her hands from a case. Certainly, Tupas wouldn’t feel too comfortable chatting with a man who tried to fire his father a second time.

The firm position taken by Tupas has frustrated Gutierrez. Her usual tactics didn’t work this time. She tried to deal with a person who adopted a “no return, no exchange” policy. No barter, no withdrawal of cases. Now she wants to use the issue to cast doubt over the credibility of Tupas. However, her lies will not bring her anywhere. The public isn’t likely to be deceived. A coincidence? The resolution was dated August 10, 2010. The lapse of five months before it was signed only reinforces the story of Rep. Tupas. It was kept hanging to be used as a bargaining tool.

Merceditas Gutierrez has done the country grave wrongs. There is growing anger among Filipinos as details about her anomalies are revealed. It is the position of the Tupas family that they can take the blows for the sake of making sure that the ends of justice and equity are served. Gov. Tupas survived an assault by 300 heavily armed policemen. He is not about to run away from this case, much unlike Merceditas Gutierrez who is getting more desperate in trying to stop the impeachment process.

Ombudsman is a big-time protection racket

About a year ago, a high-ranking official of the Ombudsman from Manila visited me at the Iloilo Capitol to obtain my affirmation of the graft charges I had filed against Augusto Boboy Syjuco, Judy Jalbuena Syjuco, et al regarding the P6.2 million ghost purchase of 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 cellular phones purportedly for a communication system in the 2nd district of Iloilo.

I was filled with excitement as this official revealed that his unit’s investigation validated my findings that Syjuco had orchestrated this ghost purchase using funds from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) by having the signature of then Sta. Barbara town mayor Isabelo Maquino on the invoice property receipt to make it appear that the cell phone units had been delivered.

This Ombudsman official also interviewed Mayor Maquino to confirm the forgery of his signature. Mayor Maquino was then asked to execute an affidavit on the matter to be made part and parcel of the case that was in the final stages before being submitted to his superiors. There was no stopping the filing of the case, the official told me.

Nothing happened since then. At that stage, the investigation work was all but finished, and a review of the findings and recommendations should really have taken more than a week. Apparently, the case got buried in the growing pile of graft cases that only gather dust in the records store room of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. If Gutierrez was serious about eradicating corruption, that case would have made a good example.

That cell phone anomaly case created a big uproar in Iloilo. But the Syjucos just hunkered down, and the issue died a natural death. It died with the inaction, apparently deliberate, of the Ombudsman. It’s the latest of the frustrating battles I had fought against the corruption of Boboy Syjuco. Previous cases I had filed against him, including one pertaining to the fertilizer fund scam, have either been dismissed “for failure to prove his involvement” or simply slept in the backrooms of the agency.

Knowing how Syjuco operates, I can surmise that these cases suffered from the same fate as the many other scandals that are now hogging the headlines — the Ligot and Garcia ill-gotten wealth controversies, among others. The Ombudsman is a big-time protection racket where graft cases against clear plunderers and thieves in government are just swept under the rug, obviously for a fee. Such protection isn’t cheap. Through the grapevine, I was told each “areglo” is worth millions of pesos, depending on the gravity of the case.

But I am not totally unhappy. Now, Gutierrez is being hailed before the House justice committee to account for her alleged malfeasances. This is the revenge of the entire Filipino people who were deprived of the services of a true Ombudsman. She sold the Filipino people to the plunderers; she will have to pay for that sin.

Will the Tupas committee rise to the challenge?

Among the hundreds of “tweets” that rolled across my Twitter feed yesterday, there was one that changed the complexion of the loud debate about the abuses of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and gave a clue as to where the impeachment cases filed against her before the House of Representatives (HOR) Justice Committee will be headed in the coming days.

UP law professor Ibarra Gutierrez III, through his @barrygutierrez Twitter account said: “Prepping new motion for SC to dismiss case filed by Merci Gutierrez so that impeachment can push thru. We’ve had enough of her, right?”
Gutierrez, obviously not related to the Ombudsman,  is the lead counsel for a group of complainants that includes former Akbayan party list Rep. Risa Hontiveros.
With this motion expected to be filed this week before the Supreme Court, supporters of the impeachment move felt renewed confidence the proceedings before the House justice committee under its chairman, Iloilo 5th District Rep. Niel “Junjun” Tupas Jr., can pick up where it left off on the cases four months ago. Tupas, according to sources, has been given the green light by Malacanang to go full throttle on the impeachment. President Noynoy Aquino is aware his campaign to prosecute corrupt officials of the Arroyo administration will get nowhere for as long as Gutierrez stays in office, the sources said. The necessary first step to achieve his goals is the impeachment of Gutierrez.
The Tupas committee has shown every courtesy to the Supreme Court by suspending its impeachment hearings after making a finding of suffiency in form and substance of the charges filed against Gutierrez. Tupas had wanted to ignore the status quo ante order handed down by the High Court. He relented as an accommodation to House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. who didn’t want to force the issue and avert a possible constitutional crisis. But the delay of four months is taxing the patience of President Aquino, sources say. Every single day that goes by translates to a creeping victory for Ombudsman Gutierrez, and the proceedings must have to go on.
The filing of this motion to dismiss the case before the Supreme Court could be a tactical move to show one last gesture of respect and courtesy to the judiciary. A few days ago, SC spokesman Midas Marquez said the high tribunal has set another round of deliberations in three weeks. Marquez reiterated that the status quo ante order issued by the SC remains in effect. That will set back the timetable further back, and only fuel the growing frustration of the people. If the Supreme Court continues to dilly-dally, the Tupas committee might just release the parking brake lever and get on with urgent business. It could tell the tribunal, “we’ve given you enough time on this and we can’t wait any further.”
Rep. Tupas knows how important this matter is, and he has given every indication he will not run away from a good fight. He is determined to fulfill a mission for his nation and pave the way for the “matuwid na landas” advocacy of President Aquino to become reality.

Can Facebook hasten impeachment of Merci?

Gone are the days when causes are fought with signature campaigns. The battleground has shifted from paper and pen to cyberspace, where a click is enough to manifest a citizens stand on an issue. In a recent article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine, the ouster of Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2001 was attributed largely to the massive text messaging campaign that brought people to EDSA. That was that start of a new era where social media is believed to possess vast powers in shaping the political landscape of every nation.

The impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has given birth to an experiment on whether Facebook can generate enough followers to manifest the people’s growing disgust over the corruption that her leadership at the anti-graft body has managed to engender rather than stop. Two impeachment complaints were filed before the House of Representatives last year against Gutierrez, but before the House of Representatives could even proceed with its hearings, Gutierrez already went to the Supreme Court and obtained a status quo ante order. The issue  is still pending before the Supreme Court. A few days ago, the SC spokesman said the tribunal will set another deliberation in three weeks, a move that many perceive as a delaying tactic.

The “Impeach Merci” Facebook page seeks to mobillize public opinion in support of a move by the House justice committee to pick up where it left off on the impeachment proceedings without waiting for a Supreme Court ruling. The Filipino sovereign is supreme over any governmental power in the land, and through this page, we can express our position. If you wish to make your voice heard, just click on the link below, and then click on the “Like” button at the bottom left of the page. We also encourage you to spread the word to your friends to make this movement “viral”.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Impeach-Merci/114445221960839?v=app_2373072738&ref=ts#!/pages/Impeach-Merci/114445221960839

Vigilante justice

The savagery in the manner he was killed was almost a copycat of the way murder victims attributed to his gang was carried out: multiple wounds against a defenseless target. Emmanuel Roquero was shot no less than 23 times with his hands handcuffed in a dark portion near the old airport site in Mandurriao, Iloilo Cityseveral nights ago in what is widely believed to be the handiwork of a vigilante group.

Apparently, Roquero’s murder was intended to deliver a strong message — violent serial crimes will not be regarded kindly with kids’ gloves. For so long, the TBS 13 (which stands for True Brown Style), killed taxi drivers with impunity. This time, the rule of law will have to give way to vigilante justice, or so the killers of Roquero seemed to be saying.

What is frightening is that the brutal killing of Roquero received a thunderous applause from the public. The “it serves him right” mentality seems to have pervaded over the city. So many felt it was a justified action in the face of the seeming helplessness of the pollice in putting a stop to the spate of taxi murders blamed upon the TBS gang. This kind of public reaction might encourage whoever was responsible to do it again.

We have to warn the community that vigilante justice might seem attractive in the short term. People want revenge, and this is what vigilantes serve upon perceived criminals. But we have to remember we live under a rule of law. There are basic rights that were trampled upon. Killing a murder suspect can never be right. A crime to stop a criminal is wrong. There is real danger this will trigger a vicious cycle of violence. Certain groups will feel tempted to abrogate the role of crime-busters and target individuals labeled as criminals. Who will guarantee that innocent people will not fall victim to the vigilantes? Do we really want the city to be littered with dead bodies?

A short prayer for the massacre victims

Lord, I pray that the souls of the 58 massacre victims in Ampatuan, Maguindanao shall have by now found their place at Your side, and enjoy the bliss from Your love and care. They suffered from pain, but I know that with the touch of Your hand, all these scars and wounds shall immediately heal and vanish. Comfort also their loved ones, the people they left behind on this Earth, their hearts also torn from the irreparable loss resulting from this carnage. Give them the strength and courage, Lord, to face life, and the patience as they seek justice for the cruel and evil deeds brought upon their persons by savages belonging to the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao.

I pray, Lord, that never again shall such abuses be tolerated in this archipelgago, that the culture of impunity that emboldened the perpetrators to carry out this crime to think they could just kill and not even feel sorry for it. Guide those in the national leadership to evenly enforce the law, making no exceptions for any group, tribe or clan, and show to the Filipino people that the scales of justice are equal.

Finally, Lord, grant that the Magistrate, Prosecutors, and Law Enforcers involved in the trial of the massacre suspects walk down the enlightened path, so that truth and justice will prevail, and the families of the victims, as well as the Filipino nation, will be satisfied that wrong is never allowed to triumph over right, and that criminals will have to suffer the penalties prescribed by law. Let this process be a triumph of a democratic justice system where only evidence, and nothing else, will determined the outcome of a case.