Graft cases in Mindanao rise in run up to 2007 polls

The number of criminal and administrative cases filed at the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao doubled in 2006 from approximately 200 cases filed every month in 2005 to double that number in 2006.

The number of cases every month is expected to continue rising as election draws nearer, said lawyer Zuleika Lopez, graft investigator and prosecution officer at Ombudsman Mindanao. The trend, she told MindaNews, is the same as in past election years, 2001 and 2004.

Lopez said the 2005 and 2006 figures include cases filed against elective and appointive officials. But in 2006, elective officials composed majority of the respondents in at least 450 cases filed as of December, she said.

Lopez noted that the number of new docketed cases or cases with sufficient evidence rose in the last quarter of 2006, from 76 in September, 84 in October, and 108 in November.

She said the number of cases significantly go down after the elections “which help us conclude this is really related to elections.”

Lopez said there are cases filed against politicians that are backed with evidence and are prosecuted.  

But while a number of the cases filed are backed with evidence, most of the cases, however, are political harassments.

“When you carefully read each case, you will find out they are just allegations. She said they are later dismissed by the anti-graft body as “flimsy” or unsubstantiated.

Lopez said the Ombudsman cannot refuse any complaint, whether it is backed with evidence or just harassment. “We are duty-bound to probe on the complaint and come up with a decision,” she said.

She said any individual can easily file a complaint against a politician in office at the Ombudsman. But the Ombudsman dismisses cases that are not backed with evidence.

Lopez said the Ombudsman cannot reveal details of the cases, like name of respondents, before any resolution is made on the complaint. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)