AMONG ITS MANY EXCUSES for being, the government is supposed to combat crime and corruption. Those elected to office thus take a solemn oath before God, Country, and Constitution to uphold, defend, and rule by the laws of the land.

Our latest two-part report inquires into the cases of politicians accused of crime who have offered themselves to lead the people, and even ran and won in the May 2013 elections.

This unsettling nuptial of politics and crime, or of candidates and party-list group nominees accused of both graft and criminal offenses winning elective positions, was an unexplored dark side of the latest balotting. Yet even more worrisome, not a single government agency or the political parties had bothered to shed light on the issue.

A great many of these candidates — least 169 of them — even ran under the Liberal Party of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, while more than 50 ran as part of the slate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) led by Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Indeed, while citizens are typically required to secure police clearances when applying for a job, politicians accused of crime apparently get in and out of public office with neither effort nor dread.

Even those who have been convicted get to run for public posts, in contrast to the lot of dismissed government officers and personnel who are suspended or barred from public office after being found guilty of misdeeds.

PCIJ cross-checked the Sandiganbayan database with the official list of candidates for senator, congressman, governor, vice governor, provincial board member, mayor, vice mayor, and councilors in the May 2013 elections from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The database of the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court on cases filed from 1979 to 2012 shows that at least 504 candidates who ran in last month’s elections are respondents in 1,883 cases for graft and other crimes.

Of the 504 candidates with cases, 256 were elected or re-elected in the latest balloting, which drew a total of 45,147 candidates for all positions.

At least 17 of the winners had been convicted, including three whose sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

What the Sandiganbayan database failed to capture, however, are the cases of the big fish who managed to get away with graver offenses and high crimes. Some of these cases did not even reach the courts, and the few that did ended with the accused being pardoned and freed.

If you can’t jail them, elect them. If you do jail them, well, you can always elect them again.

This appears to be a recurring theme in the Philippines, where the popular saying that a public office is a public trust seems to be misconstrued as meaning the public must simply put their full trust in their public officials, regardless of their behavior.

Read the PCIJ’s report on “Crime in Politics? Politics in Crime?”
Part 1: Sandiganbayan: 256 poll winners have graft, crime cases; 17 convicted
Sidebar: The Big Fish Who Got Away

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