Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte faces plunder, graft suits over Davao contracts to Bong Go kin

Jairo Bolledo, Lian Buan

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Duterte faces plunder, graft suits over Davao contracts to Bong Go kin

TANDEM. File photo of then president Rodrigo Duterte accompanying his then Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go to file his candidacy for senator in the 2019 elections.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV files the complaints before the Department of Justice instead of the Ombudsman

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Rodrigo Duterte faces his second criminal suit post-presidency, this time over the Davao contracts awarded to construction firms owned allegedly by the father and sibling of Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, Duterte’s right-hand man and former special assistant to the president.

Duterte faces plunder, graft suits over Davao contracts to Bong Go kin

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV  filed the criminal complaints of graft and plunder against Duterte and Go on Friday, July 5, before the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

The complaints were based on a 2018 report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that CLTG Builders and Alfrego Builders and Supply, which are owned by Go’s father and sibling, cornered the most number and biggest projects in the Davao region since 2007, when Duterte was mayor of Davao City, to 2017 when he was already Philippine president.

According to Trillanes’ complaint, based on what he said were additional records submitted to him, CLTG and Alfrego were “awarded government projects, from 2007 to 2018, valued at a staggering amount of at least P6.6 billion.”

PCIJ also reported that CLTG is on the list of companies in the Davao region with the most number of delayed projects. The name CLTG stands out because it is also Go’s initials: Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Tesoro Go.

The anti-graft law punishes, among others, manifest partiality to a private company, and causing undue injury to the government in the form of, for example, delayed projects. Trillanes’ complaint alleged the awarding of contracts to Go’s kin under the leadership of Duterte falls squarely on the law, including Sections 3(h) and 3(i) which prohibit public officials from having direct or indirect interest in businesses that have transactions with the government.

“The acts and relationships of herein Respondents, thus, fall squarely under the above constitutional and statutory proscriptions against conflicts of interest in the public sector, undermining the fundamental integrity of the government,” said the complaint.

Can it be plunder?

Plunder has a higher threshold than graft. First, the amount concerned must be P50 million or higher. The amount must not just be the general amount concerned in the transaction, but it must be the amount of the ill-gotten wealth allegedly acquired for personal enrichment. 

Generally, it’s not as simple as alleging anomalous awarding of contracts if there is specific accusation of ill-gotten wealth amounting to P50 million.

For perspective, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles was judged guilty of plunder in the pork barrel scam because projects were proven to be non-existent, and the discretionary funds exceeding P50 million went to enrich herself. Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada were acquitted of plunder because the Sandiganbayan said the specific elements were not there.

In the pork barrel scam, the principle of “main plunderer” also arose, in which you have to prove that there is a main plunderer in the scheme.

Trillanes said that Section 1(d) of the plunder law or Republic Act 7080 lists ways to acquire ill-gotten wealth, and that includes “taking undue advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines.”

“It was during the period when Respondent Bong Go was appointed to a cabinet post by Respondent Duterte that CLTG Builders and Alfrego Builders & Supply were awarded an overwhelming number of substantial and sizeable projects worth billions of pesos,” said the complaint.

“By repeatedly awarding hundreds of public infrastructure projects worth billions upon billions of pesos to sole proprietorships undeniably owned by Respondent Go’s immediate family members… Respondents have indeed unjustly favored Respondent Go’s next-of-kin and unjustly enriched themselves at the expense and to damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,” the complaint added.

Aside from Duterte and Go, Trillanes also sued Senator Go’s father, Desiderio, and Go’s half-brother, Alfredo. 

Suing Duterte

Traditionally, corruption complaints are filed with the Office of the Ombudsman since it is the body’s mandate to probe and file cases against erring government officials. Samuel Martires, the current Ombudsman, is a Duterte appointee. 

“Nag-file po tayo dito sa DOJ dahil, una-una dahil may concurrent jurisdiction. Tapos, naniniwala tayo na mas may access ‘yong DOJ sa iba’t-ibang ahensya to validate ‘yung mga dokumento na i-finile namin sa DPWH, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), at sa COA (Commission on Audit). Tapos, marami pa silang puwedeng makuha dito,” Trillanes told reporters in an interview.

(We filed this with the DOJ because first of all, there’s concurrent jurisdiction. Then, we believe that the DOJ has more access to different agencies to validate the documents that we filed with the DPWH, DTI, and COA. Then, they can got more from here.)

The DOJ can endorse the complaints filed by Trillanes to the Ombudsman. In the pork barrel scam, the DOJ did the initial investigation and were deputized co-prosecutors when former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales took over and pursued the case up to the Sandiganbayan.

These complaints are the second set of suits filed against Duterte after his presidency. Presidents enjoy immunity, so the strategy has always been to wait until they are no longer in office before filing the complaints. 

“Importante ito para ma-test natin talagang kung ang hudikatura natin ay makawala na sa impluwensya at kontrol ng mga Duterte (These complaints are important so we can test if the judiciary is already free from the influence of the Dutertes),” Trillanes explained. 

In October last year, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro sued the former chief executive for grave threat before the Quezon City prosecutor’s office. Castro filed the complaint after Duterte, in a television show, linked the activist lawmaker to the armed communist movement. He also said that Castro should be targeted to be killed first. 

The complaint was important because not only was it the first complaint filed against Duterte, it also provided the chance to hold him accountable for red-tagging and grave threats. Duterte and his government gained notoriety of being red-taggers, especially against government critics and activists.

However, in January this year, the prosecutors junked Castro’s complaint for lack of sufficient evidence. The complaint was dismissed before the Supreme Court released its decision that defined red-tagging and acknowledged its dangers. 

Meanwhile, the alleged killings carried out by the Davao Death Squad during Duterte’s time as Davao City mayor and the deaths under his bloody drug war are now subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) probe. The ICC appeals chamber already dismissed the Philippine government’s petition to stop the investigation, and the ICC has been rumored that it will be issuing either a summon or warrant in relation to its probe. —

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.
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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.