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Where is Boboy Syjuco?

Two weeks ago, I sat down for coffee with former colleagues in the congressional office of then Iloilo 2nd District Rep. Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, Jr. It was a reunion of sorts but with one agenda: the corruption cases now pending before the Sandiganbayan against Syjuco. I filed four of these cases (now estimated at 12). The problem is that many other people, including two or three of my former colleagues, were implicated in the cases. They definitely had nothing to do with the crimes. But the paper trail put them in the scene of the crime, so to speak. They were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

boboy syjuco

Photo credit: Getty Images

The problem was that Syjuco, who served as congressman for nine years (1998-2001, 2001-2004, and then 2010-2013) and Director General of TESDA in 2005-2010, left his former employees to fend for their own. He did not provide them with a lawyer. Syjuco’s corruption also left a trail of misery and legal woes for incumbent 2nd District Rep. Arcadio Gorriceta and Alimodian municipal mayor Geefrey “Kalay” Alonsabe, among others.

Gorriceta was charged before the Sandiganbayan a few months ago along with Syjuco over the P5 million education-for-all project that was implemented through the Pavia LGU in 2004. Gorriceta is being held to account because he approved the disbursement to Syjuco’s NGO, the Tagipusuon Foundation, despite the improper liquidation. Two other former LGU officials were charged in the case.

For his part, Alonsabe was indicted by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office for his participation as municipal councilor in 2004 in ratifying an agreement with Syjuco’s other NGO, Tawo kag Duta Cooperative, for a P5.0 million fertilizer program. The Ombudsman validated my complaint that it was a ghost project. My complaint was only against Syjuco, but the Ombudsman implicated several others, including former employees of “Tito Boboy” and LGU officials.

Syjuco is also facing criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan for the many anomalies at TESDA in which more than a billion pesos are believed to have been plundered. I am just surprised why plunder wasn’t one of the charges filed against him. He should be held in jail without bail.

But where is Syjuco now?

According to newspaper reports, Syjuco was granted a permit to travel abroad last month ostensibly to undergo medical treatment in Singapore. What is his medical condition? Is it really necessary for him to seek treatment abroad? Knowing Syjuco, he will use all kinds of excuses just to avoid trial. His foreign trip caused an arraignment scheduled two weeks ago at the Sandiganbayan to be postponed. His co-accused spent a lot of money only to be told the arraignment would not push through.

Anyway, Syjuco could have left a legacy in the 2nd district of Iloilo. He was super rich when he became congressman, and there was no reason for him to want to steal. But there are things we can’t understand in some people. This guy’s greed was beyond comprehension. I was his chief of staff in 1998. When I saw corruption setting in, I left in 2001.

This is one guy who deserves to rot in jail for his sins against the Filipino people.

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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.

Badge of honor

When I filed a request with the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas for a required clearance, I was told it would take a little while before the same could be issued. The reason? A records check on its database showed that my name was listed as a respondent in a number of pending cases. Each and every case would have to be verified to know its exact status, an employee said. How many cases have been filed against me and still pending?

It took about a week before the anti-graft agency issued the certification. And when I looked at it, I felt proud. That’s because the only case pending (the others were dismissed) was a 2003 complaint filed by Augusto L. Syjuco, Jr.

I felt proud because the complainant is the symbol of the unmitigated plunder and greed during the Arroyo administration. Syjuco is perhaps the most notorious public official to have set foot in government, starting from when he was still in his first two terms of congressman, and then as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). Syjuco’s corruption is shamefully legendary. A quick search of YouTube would list several documentaries about the magnitude of his corruption.

I felt proud because the clearance was being submitted to the Office of the President through TESDA secretary Joel Villanueva. Certainly, the irony of the information will not escape the national leadership. I was a target of harassment of Syjuco, whose corrupt deals have not yet fully uncovered. What has come to the surface so far are sufficient to shock the ordinary individual with a sense of decency and uprightness. I said to myself, this information will be counted in my favor. Instead of a minus factor, it will be regarded as a plus factor.

Indeed, it was a tough battle I fought to expose the corruption of Syjuco while he was congressman and then TESDA head. I feel confident I will be given a better opportunity to dig deeper into his corruption and help prosecute this man who stole the future of tens of thousands of young Filipinos with what he did at TESDA.

That Ombudsman certification listing Syjuco as my accuser will be a badge of honor I will wear when I rejoin public service under the Aquino administration.