Almendras’ anti-graft crusades

Sen. Alejandro D. Almendras, the first senator from Davao, was both a hero and villain. In the annals of Philippine politics, he was embroiled in various controversies but always escaped unscathed. As a firebrand legislator, he scorched the Senate with exposes that brought him into distasteful tussles with fellow legislators in the lower chamber of Congress.

In some cases, he was fast in lashing foreign criticisms. On April 27, 1962, in response to U.S. envoy to the Philippines William E. Stevenson’s remark that President Carlos P. Garcia’s ‘Filipino-first policy was making “some American investors nervous,” he made mincemeat of the analysis in a speech before the Manila Rotary Club.

Brash and sarcastic, Sen. Almendras was a “no holds barred” anti-graft crusader. On June 2, 1962, for instance, he exposed the syndicate of Filipinos and Chinese which secured cement from Cebu Portland Cement Corp. Less than a year later, on May 10, 1963, he accused national treasurer Vicente Gella “with venalities in connection with the government back-pay.”

When the Harry Stonehill controversy scandal exploded and hogged national headlines, it was Sen. Almendras who first stood up in the Senate and demanded that all documents related to the scandal be published.

1964 was another banner year for Sen. Almendras’ exposes.

On February 18, 1964, he rose in the Senate to propose the conduct of public hearings on the rice importation bill after he felt dissatisfied by the way the initiative was crafted. The following month he delivered a privilege speech linking “a number of army officers to smuggling.” Later, in a separate address, he exposed Operation Termite as a smokescreen to hide “the attempts to smuggle cigarets under the protection of armed forces officials.”

On January 4, 1965, as head of the Senate committee on commerce and industry, Sen. Almendras announced the discovery of P5 million “worth of spoiled consumers goods, milk, sardines, butter, cheese, fruits, etc. in 8 Manila warehouses of the National Marketing Corp.” The incident reminisces the recent reports that rice in government warehouses were rotting, while medicines stocked in health department bodegas had expired.

That same year, Sen. Almendras’ committee and the Senate committee on government corporations and bureaus, announced on November 17 the preparation of a probe that would look into reported anomalies in the Bureau of Supply, Bureau of Printing, Rice and Corn Administration, National Marketing Corp., and Philippine Virginia Tobacco Administration.

And on March 17, 1965, following Sen Almendras’ expose, President Ferdinand E. Marcos met with officials in Camp Aguinaldo to go to the bottom of a sex scandal and other irregularities that were happening in the Constabulary Criminal Investigation Service.

But the senator also had his share of questionable activities. On November 10, 1962, the Manila Fiscal Office filed cases against Sen. Almendras and former finance secretary Dominador Aytona for “enrichment in office.” Particularly, Sen. Almendras was charged for purportedly acquiring P1.282 million of “unexplained wealth” from 1955 to 1960.

In just two days the fiscal’s office completed the preliminary probe of the charge against the senator and a case was promptly “filed in court, together with two other anti-grat cases one hour before the deadline, the law prohibiting the filing of such charges within a one-year period before elections.”

Adding trouble to Sen. Almendras’ mounting legal woes was the February 5, 1963 privilege speech delivered by Rep. Ismael Veloso, a Nacionalista congressman from Davao, who accused him of enrichment while serving as governor of Davao, secretary of the Department of General Services, and a senator. A congressional inquiry was also being pushed. But Almendras shrugged off Rep. Veloso’s accusations as “malicious and unfounded,” adding that the allegations were “intended as a trap to force [me] into the Liberal camp” and dares the congressman to repeat his accusations in a public place where there was no immunity from libel.

As the heat build-up between the two politicians rose in temperature, Sen. Almendras wanted to refute the claims of Rep. Veloso in the lower chamber, but House Speaker Cornelio Villareal doused cold water on his request. Similarly, Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez, elder brother of a former Davao City mayor, issued a statement that Veloso “could not be permitted to interpellate Almendras on the Senate floor.”

Through all the bad blood and harsh words that were exchanged, Judge Conrado M. Vasquez of the Manila Court of First Instance (who later became first Ombudsman and Supreme Court associate justice), on motion of the Office of the Solicitor General, dismissed the unexplained wealth suit against Sen. Almendras “without prejudice to the filing of the case again at some future date.” The basis for dropping the charges were the reports received by the prosecutors that, in fact, the senator had accumulated more wealth than was charged.