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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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Gone is the rule of law

I just received word that the Ombudsman, in less than one month, dismissed my motion for reconsideration in the graft complaint I filed against Senate President Franklin Drilon and several other respondents in connection with the Iloilo Convention Center project anomalies.

The Ombudsman has shown once again its unrivaled speed and efficiency in resolving cases (lopsidedly when it comes to close allies of the President). I filed the motion for reconsideration on June 4, 2015 (by registered mail). The resolution denying it was signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on July 9, 2015.
This was not unexpected. When the Ombudsman dismissed my complaint in record time of five months last May, I knew that forces outside the law were at work here. This is an agency that takes five years, on the average, in resolving simple graft cases. Several complaints I have filed against Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog have languished in the central office on review for more than two years (and that’s just REVIEW).
The Ombudsman swept aside the truth, especially on the point that the fund disbursements for the ICC from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were illegal and constituted malversation of public funds. The DAP funds for the ICC were disbursed through DPWH even if there was no line item budget for the project in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA). The Ombudsman mocked at the decision of the Supreme Court on the DAP cases when it ruled that those funds allocated to projects NOT INCLUDED IN THE GAA AS LINE ITEMS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND ILLEGAL. It is so brazen that one wonders where the rule of law has been buried.
This is a concrete illustration of selective justice. The evidence was ignored to favor the respondents, especially Senate President Drilon. I must accept defeat in the face of this herculean conspiracy to bury the truth. I am powerless against them. I have no resources to carry the battle to the higher courts.
I guess this will have to be resolved at a later time when the rule of law is fully restored in our country, and the principle of accountability is strengthened. The Ombudsman is making a huge travesty of the anti-corruption efforts. It is undermining its own mandate.
With my head unbowed, I say, I have fought the good fight.

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

NEWS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) in Region VI to undertake an audit of the P33.9-million contract to build the Esplanade II project along the Iloilo River which is alleged to be overpriced and the public bidding rigged.

In a 1st Indorsement dated May 6, 2014, Deputy Ombudsman Pelayo Apostol forwarded the complaint of Iloilo journalist Manuel “Boy” Mejorada against Senate President Franklin Drilon and key officials of the Department of Public Works over alleged violations of the government procurement reform law and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

Apostol addressed the request to COA VI regional director Evelyn P. Reyes. A copy of the transmittal letter was furnished Mejorada as the complainant.

In his complaint, Mejorada said the DPWH Bids and Awards Committee made a mockery of R.A. 9184 which established guidelines on the conduct of public biddings for government procurement.

Mejorada said that on the face of the information he obtained from the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) on the contract, the bidding process was “rigged” with the winning contractor submitted an offer which is only 0.12% below the approved budget for the contract.

The DPWH had set an ABC of P33,950,000 for the development of a 700-meter long embankment on the Molo side of the Iloilo river.

Roprim Construction, which had also been awarded the contract for Esplanade I, submitted a bid of P33,908,791.50, which is just P41,208.50 lower than the ABC. Mejorada said this is an incredible winning bid, as it almost hit the ABC by a hairline difference.

Mejorada said the public bidding was apparently manipulated to favor Roprim Construction, which he described as a favored contractor of Drilon. This is the same contractor that cornered the overpriced Esplanade I two years ago at a total cost of P83.5 million.

On Sept. 10, 2013, Mejorada also filed a graft case against Drilon and the DPWH BAC before the Ombudsman for the apparent ghost implementation of a P13.5 million PDAF disbursement AFTER the project was already completed and inaugurated.

Moreover, the contract price for the project is overpriced by about P20 million, he said.

In addition to these “glaring anomalies”, Mejorada said the DPWH violated the revised implementing rules and regulations of R.A. 9184 with its failure to post the notices of award and to proceed to the contractor within the prescribed number of days.

He said this was done to hide the contract from other interested bidders.

Mejorada said Drilon is being implicated in this case because he is the prime mover for the development of the project. The project was funded from the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration, he said.

The Ombudsman’s request for an audit is intended to establish the veracity of Mejorada’s claim that the contract is overpriced and that the bidding was rigged.

Aside from Drilon, Mejorada included DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and the entire Bids and Awards Committee of the DPWH Region VI as respondents.

The complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas Iloilo field office on March 27, 2014.