Seares: Former Cortes, Bohol mayor Apolinaria Balistoy convicted twice but had already fled abroad when Sandiganbayan meted out, 11 months apart in 2023, two sets of jail terms totaling 70 years.

Where are they? Former mayors Apolinaria Balistoy (left) of Cortes, Bohol and Cynthia Moreno of Aloguinsan, Cebu.
Where are they? Former mayors Apolinaria Balistoy (left) of Cortes, Bohol and Cynthia Moreno of Aloguinsan, Cebu.Photos by Bohol Chronicle and SunStar

[] Case recalls flight of former Aloguinsan, Cebu mayor Cynthia Moreno, also convicted of corruption

MEDIA reports last December 29-30, 2023 -- regarding the Sandiganbayan decision convicting former Cortes, Bohol mayor Apolinaria Balistoy of corruption -- did not include these key facts:

[1] Balistoy was also previously convicted by the same anti-graft court, but in another division, 11 months earlier, on January 20, 2023;

[2] On the same day in January, Balistoy fled the country by posing as a member of "an airline crew for a special flight," a Rappler of January 25, 2023 report said. She had been in hiding since 2016 when the criminal charges against her were filed and in February 2017 was arrested by an NBI agent at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. But she posted bail and was released the next day. Last year, she managed to fly out before she could be re-arrested, the Bureau of Immigration informed prosecutors after the escape.

TWO CONVICTIONS. The more recent conviction of Balistoy promulgated last December 11, 2023 by Sandiganbayan's fourth division -- was for corruption, falsification of public documents and malversation through use of falsified documents (under SB-17-CRM-0122 to 0128). They carried a maximum of 48 years in jail. Balistoy falsified her attendance in seminars to get refunds totaling P105,000. Accessory penalties were perpetual disqualification from holding public office and to indemnify Cortes town with the amount illegally paid to Balistoy plus interest.

Her other prison term -- meted 11 months earlier, on January 20, 2023, by the Sandiganbayan's fifth division -- carried a prison term of 22 years for traveling without authority and for falsifying documents to liquidate the fund she had used.

She was charged in 2016 with corruption (SB-16-CRM-0783) for defrauding Cortes town of P20,779 she supposedly spent for seven personal trips in 2010 to Cebu City, claimed as official trips but were not authorized by the provincial government. Along with falsification of public documents (SB-16-CRM-0784 to 0787) for the forgery of refund papers.

Prosecutors said Balistoy "indicated her moral obliquity" by violating the rule on travel and forging the signature of a certifying officer from the Civil Service Commission.

NOT THE FIRST CASE OF FLIGHT. What happened in nearby Bohol, where former Cortes mayor was convicted of corruption but escaped arrest, also happened in Aloguinsan, Cebu.

The Sandiganbayan in June 2014 convicted of corruption then Aloguinsan mayor Cynthia Moreno and seven other persons, meting out the prison term of from six years and one day to 10 years. The case involved P1.1 million worth of aluminum panels that were bought without public bidding (a "mock bidding" was used).

Moreno asked the anti-graft court for a house arrest, instead of detention at a regular jail. After the Supreme Court affirmed the Sandiganbayan rejection of her petition, publicized November 16, 2022, Moreno disappeared and apparently is still at large as there has been no news of her arrest or surrender. Aside from that conviction, final and executor for a long time, Moreno was also facing another corruption case, which had to be shelved pending her arrest.

[Related Story: Explainer: Where's Aloguinsan, Cebu ex-mayor Cynthia Moreno? January 5, 2023]

MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE occurs even when the accused is tried and found guilty but the convict eludes punishment. And each flight of a convict exposes the weaknesses of law enforcement, more glaringly when the fugitive is a public official.

In Balistoy's case, she fled from the country despite a hold-departure order. She had tried to escape before but was stopped at the NAIA. She succeeded the second time by joining a flight crew: Were those who connived with the former mayor made to account for their role as accomplices?

Why she was able to post bail when she was already a flight risk, as proved by the circumstances of her arrest, was yet to be explained.

'EXHAUSTING REMEDIES' doesn't include flight. Moreno's lawyer, Inocencio de la Serna, said then his client had "multiple judicial actions" and they would "exhaust all available remedies." Those remedies though don't include becoming a fugitive.

Moreno tried to avoid incarceration by offering to be confined at home under the control of the jail bureau, she sought court permission. She vanished only after her request was rejected ("no judicial precedent allowing a convicted criminal to serve sentence outside the regular jail," said the Supreme Court).

Balistoy tried to flee at once when she learned a complaint was filed against her. They differed in pacing or timing of flight. Both faced accountability only up to the point where judgment of guilt was not yet made.


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