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)

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.