Crime in politics? Politics in crime?

Sandiganbayan files: 256 poll winners
have graft, crime cases; 17 convicted

First of Two Parts

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.

But the May 2013 elections saw the unsettling nuptial of politics and crime, or of candidates and party-list group nominees accused of both graft and criminal offenses winning elective positions.

A great many of these candidates — at 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.

To be sure, the number of candidates who are accused in other criminal or civil cases could be much bigger, if only a fuller study were done to cover the records of the regional trial courts across the nation.

(As of last week, Comelec had yet to disclose the official results for the balloting in five areas where some candidates are also respondents in Sandiganbayan cases — Lumba-Bayabao [Maguing] and Tubaran in Lanao del Sur; Kalayaan, Palawan; Diplahan, Zamboanga Sibugay; and Cavite province.)


Convicted & guilty

The charges against the 504 candidates range from plunder to malversation of public funds, usurpation of duties, giving undue advantage to favored or unqualified private parties, soliciting gifts in exchange for favors, and entering into contracts disadvantageous to the government, among others.

A handful of other cases imputed grave crimes against these candidates who are supposed to combat crime: unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention, threat and coercion, physical injuries, obstruction of justice, bribery, estafa, malicious mischief, slander, nepotism, illegal use of alias, and even robbery, homicide, and murder.

Of the winners, 17 had been convicted, while six others had pleaded guilty of the charges leveled against them.

On appeal, however, the Supreme Court subsequently acquitted five of the 17 convicted. In separate rulings though, the high court and the Court of Appeals sustained the conviction of three other candidates.

Of the accused, at least 256 won elective positions, including 19 who ran unopposed. They are respondents in 1,124 cases before the Sandiganbayan.

Among the winners, too, are 77 more candidates with pending cases and still undergoing trial before the Sandiganbayan.

With probable cause

Since 1979 or in the last 33 years, a total of 87,211 cases have been filed before the Sandiganbayan against public officials from all branches and agencies of the government, particularly those of mid-level to senior rank receiving Salary Grade 27 or higher.

To be sure, these cases have passed through rigorous review by the Office of the Ombudsman, which is mandated in law to investigate complaints and initiate the filing of cases against public officials before the Sandiganbayan, after determination of probable cause.

What seems to be unclear, however, is which government agency is in charge of vetting or weeding out candidates with graft and other criminal cases from joining electoral exercises. As it turns out, various laws offer different provisions on whether candidates with various types of cases should or could be allowed to run for public office.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim says the poll body “has no way of checking criminal charges and/or records because the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) is the only document required by law that must be submitted by any person who intends to run for public office.”

“From the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) officials down to mayors and councilors, the duties of election officers are ministerial,” he says. “Meaning, when they receive the COC, they will look at the entries and check whether it is filled out or not. They have no discretion to refuse.”

The election officers are then asked to transmit the COCs to the Comelec Law Department in Manila. In the last elections, its few lawyers had to check 80,000 COCs for a few required details and only one attachment: the candidate’s Certificate of Nomination and Acceptance or CONA from his or her political party.

According to Lim, Comelec cannot compel candidates to declare in their COCs whether they are facing criminal charges, unless the Omnibus Election Code is amended.

Where there’s smoke…

The Code presently requires a candidate to disclose and swear to the truth of only these details in his or her COC: name, nickname, gender, age, birthday, birthplace, political party, residence, civil status, profession, period of residence in the Philippines before the day of the election, and the place where he or she is a registered voter.

Lim proposes balance in assessing the value of information about which candidates are facing graft and other cases before the Sandiganbayan.

On one hand, he says, accused candidates “should still enjoy the presumption of innocence.”

On the other hand, he adds: “But there’s smoke… the cases heard and pending before the Sandiganbayan had already undergone a preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman. Meaning, there was already a probable cause.”

The Sandiganbayan database shows that about nine in 10 of the accused who won were elected to local government positions: 93 won as councilors, 83 as mayors (including eight who ran unopposed), and 48 as vice mayors (eight unopposed).

Eighteen were elected as district representatives. The rest won provincial government positions: one vice governor, two governors, and 11 provincial board members.

A majority or 222 of the 256 winners were re-electionist candidates or had served earlier in other elective positions: barangay chairperson, councilor, vice mayor, mayor, governor, provincial board member, and member of Congress.

Four private individuals and 30 mid-level officials from government agencies and corporations and local government units, and a few military and police officers are also among the accused who ran for public office in May 2013.

Plunder, pol clans

Two candidates had held the highest position of power and had been accused of the high crime of plunder: deposed president Joseph Ejercito Estrada and his successor, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Estrada was convicted of plunder and perjury charges in 2007 but was promptly pardoned by Arroyo, supposedly on condition that he would never run for public office again. Estrada ran for president again in 2010 and lost, but was successful in getting elected as mayor of Manila in the latest polls.

Arroyo, who is under hospital arrest for the non-bailable charge of plunder, ran and won as a district representative of her home province of Pampanga in 2010, and again in the last elections.

Aside from Estrada and Arroyo, the other high-profile respondents in the Sandiganbayan cases include Imelda R. Marcos, wife of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos who won her second term as representative of Ilocos Norte; former Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia (elected as a district representative of Cebu), and candidates bearing the surname of familiar political clans like Dimaporo, Duterte, Echiverri, Fariñas, and Malapitan.

Murder, robbery, too

Several candidates had been sued for associated common crimes. At least two candidates had been sued for perjury; two for obstructing the arrest and prosecution of criminals; one for nepotism; and one for slander.

Just as grave, several winners in last month’s balloting are facing charges that most everyone would associate only with the malefactors of society: murder, six cases; estafa, five; threat and coercion, four; physical injuries, three; and unlawful arrest, bribery, robbery, and homicide, one case each.

At least one winning candidate each had also been sued for unlawful appointment, illegal use of an alias, malicious mischief, altering of boundaries or landmarks, and prohibition, interruption, and dissolution of peaceful meetings.

Other charges for violation of various laws have been filed against other candidates. These include violations of Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, five candidates; Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, three; and Local Government Code, Government Service Insurance System Act, the National Health Insurance Act, and Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, one candidate each.

Many of the candidates have been named respondents in several cases for various alleged offenses, hence the big number of 1,124 cases for the 256 winners.

Some of the cases were updated information based on previous cases, or separate charges filed for specific offenses or for violation of different sections of the same law.

Some of the candidates had thus been acquitted in some of the cases, but also convicted in the other cases.

Of the 1,124 cases against the 256 winning candidates, a third or 441 cases had been filed against Leovegildo R. Ruzol, re-elected mayor of General Nakar, Quezon, for multiple counts of usurpation of power.


Dismissed, archived

The names of some of the 256 winning candidates appeared under various “status of cases” categories in the Sandiganbayan database. While there are those who had some of their cases “dismissed,” they remain respondents in some other cases, hence the bigger subtotals for each category.

At least 87 candidates had their cases dismissed without undergoing trial; eight others had their cases dismissed by the court, while 59 had been acquitted.

The cases against 36 others had been withdrawn by the Office of the Special Prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Still and all, aside from those convicted, a third or 77 of the 256 winning candidates have 133 pending cases; the oldest case was filed in 1991 yet, and the newest, in 2012 or just months ago.

The cases against 10 more candidates had been archived, while the cases against seven more candidates had been transferred to the lower courts.

Finally, the cases against two candidates had been dropped. The cases against six candidates ended in demurrer to evidence, resulting in the dismissal of charges against three respondents, and the acquittal of the other three.

A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss because of insufficiency of evidence to make out a case or sustain the issue.

Roll of convicted

Of the 17 winning candidates who had been convicted, 11 were former local officials — eight were mayors, one vice mayor, one councilor, and one president of the Sangguniang Kabataan. They are:

  1. Shuaib J. Astami, former mayor of Balabac, Palawan, re-elected mayor in May 2013;
  2. Nestor A. Bernardino, former mayor of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, now vice mayor-elect;
  3. Eric C. Labrador, mayor of Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro, now councilor-elect;
  4. Leonardo B. Leria, former mayor of MacArthur, Leyte, now, vice mayor-elect;
  5. Augustus Caesar L. Moreno, former mayor of Aloguinsan, Cebu, now vice mayor-elect;
  6. Leovegildo R. Ruzol, former mayor of General Nakar, Quezon, re-elected mayor;
  7. Edgar Y. Teves, former mayor Valencia, Negros Oriental, re-elected mayor;
  8. Melchor G. Maderazo, former mayor of Caibiran, Biliran now councilor-elect;
  9. Jaime R. Fresnedi, former Muntinlupa City vice mayor, re-elected mayor;
  10. Jonas J. Cruz, former councilor of Rodriguez, Rizal, vice mayor-elect; and
  11. Roger N. Frias, former SK president, now councilor-elect of Rodriguez, Rizal.

Convictions upheld

Only three of the 17 conviction cases had been affirmed or affirmed with modification by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

(In October 2007, the Sandiganbayan convicted deposed President Estrada of plunder and perjury charges, after a six-year trial. Estrada accepted the grant of pardon from then President Arroyo, on agreement that he would no longer appeal the Sandiganbayan ruling, which consequently became final and executory.)

The first case involved councilor-elect Melchor G. Maderazo, who was mayor of Caibiran, Biliran when he was sued before the Sandiganbayan and convicted in 2004 of threat and coercion charges filed in 1997. He was also slapped with five counts of violating Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) but was acquitted in three of the five charges. The two other cases remain pending at the Sandiganbayan.

In its 2006 decision on the case, the Supreme Court said councilor-elect Melchor G. Maderazo and his nephew Victor U. Maderazo Jr. (who ran but lost as councilor in the 2013 elections) were convicted of unjust vexation and ordered to pay a fine of P200.

Court records said that in October 1997, then Mayor Melchor Maderazo, councilor Victor Maderazo, Caibiran Police Station Chief Seniforo Perido, and six other public officials were accused of using violence to expel the complainant, Vedria Verutiao, from the market stall she was leasing from the municipality.

Verutiao claimed that Maderazo padlocked the stall premises and sent a letter saying that her lease contract had been cancelled. A week later, the contents of her stall were brought to the police station. Verutiao called the incident “political harassment,” saying her husband was then a candidate for councilor under the rival political party of Maderazo’s in the 1998 elections.

Maderazo ran for vice governor of Biliran in 2007 but lost. He was reportedly arrested in July 2008 for his alleged involvement in the killing of Vice Mayor Apoy Almen in 2001.

He was also acquitted in two other cases of giving a private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference, and in one case of directly or indirectly having financial interest in any business or transactions in which he takes part as a public official.

Cockpit row

The second was that of re-elected Mayor Edgar Y. Teves of Valencia, Negros Oriental, who along with his wife Teresita was convicted in 2002 by the Sandiganbayan for violation of Section 3h of R.A. No. 3019 (“directly or indirectly having financial interest in any business or transaction in which he takes part as public official”).

Teves was found guilty of having direct financial interest in the Valencia Cockpit and Recreation Center, which he and his wife owned and operated.

Two reasons were cited for his conviction: he did not divest his financial interests in the cockpit; and as mayor of Valencia, Teves issued a permit to operate the cockpit, putting him in conflict of interest.

The Supreme Court eventually acquitted Teves’s wife of supposedly conspiring with him and imposed a lighter fine of P10,000 as Teves’s penalty.

Pacman’s ally

The third case involved charges of malversation against re-elected Sarangani provincial board member Eugene L. Alzate, a known ally of Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel ‘Manny’ D. Pacquiao, who won his second term in the May 2013 elections.

Alzate’s case is the most recent conviction of a local public official. In January 2012, the Court of Appeals upheld the Sandiganbayan’s decision to dismiss Alzate for dishonesty and grave misconduct.

Here’s what happened: Alzate and two co-accused were sentenced to serve a jail term of 10 to 11 years, and pay a fine of P5,000 for allegedly siphoning P300,000 from the P1 million Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) that was disbursed by former Sarangani Rep. Erwin L. Chiongbian for Sarangani. CDF was the former moniker for the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or simply, pork barrel.

Various media reports said Alzate allegedly brought a government-issued vehicle of Cebu City during his wedding in 2003, which coincided with a study tour there by the department heads and provincial officials of Sarangani.

In 2004, the Office of the Ombudsman found Alzate guilty of the administrative charges and ordered him suspended. But the decision became moot and academic because Alzate lost in the 2004 elections.

Pleaded guilty

At least six of the winning candidates had pleaded guilty of malversation and other charges in cases filed before them at the Sandiganbayan.

Five of them were mayors when the cases were filed, and one was a former manager of the National Power Corporation (Napocor).

In July 2006, Rommel C. Maslog, now mayor-elect of Talisayan, Misamis Oriental, had pleaded guilty in two malversation cases amounting to P256,820. He was elected vice mayor in 2010, and resumed running for mayor in the last elections.

Another winning candidate, Samuel M. Neri, was mayor-in-charge of Talakag, Bukidnon, when he pleaded guilty in a malversation case of P14,000 in October 1994. The case was filed four months earlier in June 2004. Neri is now a councilor-elect in the same town.

Two other candidates who had entered pleas of guilt were spouses Evelyn and Samson Dumanjug, who had served as mayors in succession in Bonifacio town, Misamis Occidental. They were slapped charges of malversation and violation of Presidential Decree No. 1445, or the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines.

The cases against Mr. and Mrs. Dumanjug were filed in June 2008. They pleaded guilty of malversation of public funds amounting to P502,886.87 in June 2011.

Samson Dumanjug has been re-elected mayor, while wife Evelyn won as vice mayor, in the May 2013 elections.

Meanwhile, former Napocor manager Baldomero N. Zamora pleaded guilty to 11 counts of falsification in July 1995, four months after the cases were filed against him. Zamora was elected last May as a provincial board member of Lanao del Norte.

Finally, Hermilo L. Aguilar, former mayor of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, pleaded guilty of violating Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in January 1998. Aguilar is now mayor-elect of the same municipality. — With research and reporting by Rowena F. Caronan and Malou Mangahas, PCIJ, June 2013