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Is the battle against corruption worth fighting?

Sometimes I get to ask myself whether all the sacrifice, and risk to my personal safety, are worth it when I dig into leads on anomalous transactions in government. And that question once more came to mind yesterday (March 23, 2018) when I read in the news that the graft case I had filed against Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, Jr. in connection with the P3.25 million fertilizer fund scam in Iloilo’s 2nd District was dismissed by the Sandiganbayan due to the Ombudsman’s inordinate delay in conducting its preliminary investigation.

I filed the case in 2004 while I was still provincial administrator of Iloilo. But it took the Ombudsman more than 11 years to wrap up its preliminary investigation and file an indictment against Syjuco. The Sandiganbayan had no recourse but grant the motion to dismiss filed by Syjuco’s lawyers as the snail-paced preliminary investigation violated Syjuco’s right to speedy justice. I was also a victim, because my right to the speedy prosection of my complaint was violated. It is a right afforded to both parties to a case.

The Sandiganbayan was only being consistent. It had dismissed a long list of cases based on that ground alone. It wasn’t even about the evidence, because in this case, there was abundant documentary evidence to show that the entire transaction happened only on paper. Not a single drop of liquid fertilizer reached the hands of supposed beneficiaries in Alimodian. The list of “farmers” were only made up by Syjuco’s own men. Syjuco, through his Tawo kag Duta Cooperative, pocketed P3.25 million. It could have been P5.0 million which was the allocation for the 2nd district. But my investigation into the case scared off Syjuco’s people, and aborted the effort to collect the balance.

The other cases I had filed are at risk. These had also taken more than six years to resolve at the preliminary investigation stage. Syjuco’s lawyers will most certainly try to get them dismissed on the same ground.

Which brings me to the question: Is the Ombudsman even committed to obtaining the conviction of Syjuco and other public officials charged with graft? Sadly, the track record of the Ombudsman doesn’t give reason for me to answer in the affirmative. It has already lost a number of big cases because of that ground alone. In other cases, sloppy lawyering led to the dismissal of the cases.

It’s not just sloppy lawyering that has hindered the Ombudsman’s ability to run after the crooks in government and punish them for their corruption. I’ve become aware of specific instances when Ombudsman investigators offered to dismiss graft cases in exchange for millions of pesos. The very agency that is mandated under the Constitution to run after crooks in government is engaged in corrupt practices. Justice is also for sale at the Ombudsman.

So far, the Ombudsman’s track record has been limited to sending rank-and-file employees to prison. It’s been prosecution the pork barrel scam for many years now, and it hasn’t obtained a single conviction. Its success is counted with lowly clerks being dismissed from the service or sent to jail. It tried to redeem its image by dismissing Jed Patrick Mabilog as city mayor of Iloilo City last year. That action didn’t impress President Duterte.

My only consolation is that my exposes on Syjuco’s anomalies awakened the constituency of the 2nd district of Iloilo to his corruption. In 2013, the voters of the 2nd district of Iloilo rejected Syjuco’s bid for a fourth term as congressman, losing to Arcadio Gorriceta, the three-term municipal mayor of Pavia. In a way, I can claim credit for the lonely battle to educate the people about Syjuco’s corruption. That, for me, was punishment enough for Syjuco.

Syjuco is also facing criminal charges for the corruption at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in 2004 to 2010. Billions of pesos were plundered in overpriced purchases of tools and equipment, money that could have been spent for the educaton of young Filipinos in vocational skills. I am hopeful that Syjuco would be convicted, even if he doesn’t get to be jailed on account of his age.

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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.

Partners in crime

The congressional race in the 2nd district of Iloilo can be narrowed down to two sides, even though there are three candidates for the position. No, it’s not about a third candidate being in poor third and the battle is confined to two front runners. It’s about good and bad. One guy represents good and two guys represent bad.

Corruption is the centerpiece issue in the May 13, 2012 elections for congressman. That’s because the incumbent, Boboy Syjuco, is so embroiled in so many corruption scandals that he has become the symbol of the worst corruption this country has known. For more than 14 years now, the 2nd district has suffered quietly because corruption siphoned off huge amounts of money intended for infrastructure and social projects under the Syjuco couple. Not contented with that, Syjuco also ravaged TESDA when he headed the agency.

The issues of corruption are being hurled by Pavia mayor Arcadio Gorriceta, who is the official candidate of the Liberal Party. For several years now, Gorriceta has put up billboards all over his municipality harping on honesty and integrity in public service, an apparent dig at Syjuco. This campaign on honesty and integrity is misleading; it paints Gorriceta as the paragon of honesty and integrity while Syjuco is not. It depicts a black and white comparison between two contenders for the throne.

However, Gorriceta is no better than Syjuco in terms of corruption. Gorriceta is no paragon of honesty and integrity. On a smaller scale, Gorriceta has a long string of corruption issues that puts him on even footing with Syjuco. Big or small, corruption is the same. Syjuco was just larger because he had access to a bigger pie. But the greed that drives both men to corruption is just the same.

In fact, Syjuco and Gorriceta became partners in one corruption case. In July 2004, Syjuco had a P5-million fund for his Education-for-All program which he needed to obligate through a local government unit (LGU). There was a catch: the program was just an avenue to siphon the money from government into the private bank account of Syjuco. It was a classic money-laundering scheme in which the LGU would provide documentation for the fictitious transaction in the supply of uniforms, bags and school supplies.

Syjuco was desperate because his scheme had been discovered by other LGUs. No municipal mayor was willing to serve as conduit for the laundering scheme. Syjuco struck a deal with Gorriceta, who had just won his first election. In exchange for the favor, Syjuco would give Gorriceta a 10-percent cut of the money. That’s a cool P500,000 in cash. And so the paperwork went through the motions, and Syjuco ultimately reaped off P5,000,000. True enough, he sent an errand boy to give Gorriceta a check for half a million pesos.

Gorriceta tried to disguise the bribe. He accepted the check, but got the municipal treasurer to issue an official receipt. The money went into the coffers of the LGU. Gorriceta made it look like he didn’t accept the money personally. Of course, those who understand how the LGU works knew better, because Gorriceta would just concoct his own fictitious transaction to collect the money.

By agreeing to the scheme, Gorriceta was already a conspirator to the corruption. He willingly gave Syjuco an opportunity to swindle the government, and the people. He knew about the fraud, because he asked me for advice, and I told him not to agree. He agreed nevertheless. And he did it because of the half a million pesos bribe that he got from Syjuco.

That one case alone is evidence that Syjuco and Gorriceta are cut from the same cloth. They are both corrupt. I will expose more schemes perpetrated by Gorriceta to show that he is a fraud when he claims to be honest and clean.

Which leaves us to the inevitable conclusion: among the three candidates for congressman, only Kiting Cabaluna is really clean. This guy hasn’t been involved in a single scandal involving corruption in his public service career. He is a simple man, committed to genuine public service. He is sincere. There is no doubt in my mind he is the logical choice for the good people of the second congressional district.

‘Change’ reverberates in Iloilo’s 2nd district

Long before the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy even started, two contenders for the congressional seat for the 2nd district of Iloilo Province began slugging at each other and tear each other’s throats.

Incumbent 2nd district Rep. Augusto Boboy Syjuco and Pavia municipal mayor Arcadio Gorriceta used the radio airlanes and billboards to attack each other on issues of corruption as if elections were around the corner.

The level of conflict between Syjuco and Gorriceta is expected to intensify now that both have filed their COCs. Syjuco is running under the United Nationalist Alliance. Gorriceta is the handpicked candidate of his bosom buddy, Senator Franklin M. Drilon.

However, voters in the 2nd district aren’t as excited over this slugfest as they are with the entry of Kiting Cabaluna into the race, making it a three-cornered battle for the 2nd district. Cabaluna is presently serving as party-list congressman under the 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-CARE).

Cabaluna’s name surprisingly emerged as the front-runner in a three-way fight in a survey commissioned by a businessman recently for Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. Syjuco and Gorriceta were “statistically tied” but Cabaluna, who had then yet to announce his candidacy at the time the survey was conducted, already took a commanding lead.

“The emergence of Cabaluna’s name surprised many,” said a source who helped analyze the survey results. Cabaluna was a “fresh name” who didn’t even figure in the early conversations about the 2nd district, the source, who asked not to be identified, said. “In fact, at first we couldn’t understand why his name cropped up because we didn’t know him,” he added.

Indeed, Cabaluna is now generating ripples of excitement across the 2nd district. From out of nowhere, a home-grown native son has stepped forward to challenge the monolithic political machinery of the Syjucos, who had ruled over the 2nd district since 1998. “He is truly one of their own,” commented the poll survey expert who talked with this writer. The 2nd district has grown sick and tired of “strangers” just parachuting into the place and claim political supremacy. For the first time, a true-blooded son of the 2nd district is seeking to become congressman.

If Cabaluna’s upsurge in the survey caught a few people by surprise, it’s probably because this three-term vice mayor of Leon, Iloilo keeps a low profile. “Kiting is quiet and unassuming, doesn’t talk much and just works and works,” said a friend from Leon, Iloilo. A lawyer by profession, he joined the Tupas administration as legal officer in 2002, and provincial legal officer in 2005. He became president of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative I (Ileco I) in 2007-2010.

Cabaluna won a seat as party-list representative in the May 2010 elections. In that capacity, he made sure that the 2nd district got a substantial portion of his pork barrel because its eight municipalities had been starved for too long because of corruption. In a way, local leaders in the 2nd district adopted him as “surrogate” congressman, because Syjuco ignored the needs of his constituents.

 

Is the COA inutile? | The Iloilo News Today

Read my column in The News Today about how the Commission on Audit could have prevented the plunder of tens and even hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds by Augusto Boboy Syjuco:

 

Is the COA inutile? | The Iloilo News Today.

Enemy of the people | The Iloilo News Today

Enemy of the people | The Iloilo News Today.

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)