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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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One small step, a giant leap for justice

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas is set to conduct the preliminary investigation into my complaint that a P13.5-million contract funded from the pork barrel of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon for the development of the Iloilo Esplanade was anomalous.
On Wednesday, I received a letter from the just-retired Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelayo Apostol informing me that a fact-finding investigation done by Ombudsman graft investigators in Iloilo City has been upgraded into a formal charge for criminal and administrative offenses.
The cases, docketed as OMB-V-C-14-0489 and OMB-V-A-14-0347, primarily involves Edilberto Tayao, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the chairman and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Apostol’s letter did not mention Senate President Drilon who was listed in my complaint.
A check with the Office of the Ombudsman elicited information that the cases are entitled, “OMB-RO6 and Manuel Mejorada versus Edilberto Tayao, et al.”
For me, the upgrading of my complaint into a formal charge is a giant leap for justice.
I wish to highlight that the Office of the Ombudsman, Region VI, has filed this as co-complainant.
What does this mean? It demolishes the defense of the Senate President who said that the anomalies were just “a figment of my imagination”.
After I filed this complaint on September 10, 2013, no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ordered the anti-graft body’s investigators to determine whether it had legal and factual basis.
I was told that Ombudsman Morales gave this instruction in a hand-written note on my complaint.
The report of the fact-finding team validated my charges that the items of work stated in the project’s contract were “ghost” or non-existent.
This is enough vindication for me. The complaint is based on facts. The award of the contract was anomalous. Public funds were squandered.

Now, it’s not just me talking, but the Ombudsman Region VI as well.
But it will not, and must not, end there. It should proceed to the next step, which is an indictment of the public officials involved in this corruption.

For a background on this case, you can read this previous post:

https://manuelboymejorada.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/down-the-drain/