POSTSCRIPT / June 9, 2024 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Journalist

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Looking for best way to skin the Bamban cat

IT HAS been a month since a Senate committee started questioning the citizenship and other intriguing circumstances of Alice Leal Guo who had appeared as if from nowhere to become at age 37 the mayor of Bamban, Tarlac.

Mayor Alice Leal Guo of Bamban, Tarlac.
Photo: Manila Times

Yet the committee inquiry, led by senators Risa Hontiveros (the chair) and Win Gatchalian, has not been able to overturn the presumed regularity of Guo having been a citizen since her birth in 1986 in Tarlac — nor shake her firm “Ako ay Filipino!”

Many times, Guo would add “…at hindi ako spy!” obviously in reaction to speculations that she could be a sleeper agent of China planted in Bamban on a sinister mission.

With recurring clashes at sea between Chinese and Filipinos in our Exclusive Economic Zone, talk of spies disguised as officials, tourists, students or gambling personnel adds fuel to a dispute over territory, sovereignty, security and rights.

Attempts to sweep aside Guo’s slim (468 votes) victory in the 2022 local elections by a direct challenge on her citizenship makes one wonder how many ways are there to skin a cat — and which one works faster?

Guo has become a reminder of bigger geopolitical disputes that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says must be settled amicably by us Indo-Pacific neighbors under long established rules accepted by the civilized world.

But last we heard, Guo has been suspended as Bamban mayor by Marcos’ own Secretary of Local Government – not on the basis of the still unproven accusation that she is a fake Filipino but on the usual graft & corruption issues that Pinoy politicians are heir to.

* * *

IT IS actually the Court, not Malacañang nor the Senate, much less a congressional inquiry in aid of legislation, that must rule on or decide the mayor’s citizenship.

Even if Guo’s political fate were to be reduced to a question of her citizenship, this offspring of a kasambahay and her Chinese amo has been confident enough to announce that she will run for reelection in 2025.

The debate over the mayor’s citizenship has raked up an older question: Who has a better claim to being a natural-born citizen between (a) a local official documented on government records as the child of a Filipino housemaid and her Chinese employer and (b) a foundling holding a high government post whose biological parents were never identified with certainty to establish her being a natural-born Filipino?

We asked election lawyer Romulo Macalintal about the Gou citizenship issue especially in light of her telegraphed reelection plan for 2025. (Atty. Mac was out of town with his family, yet he took our questions. Salamat po!)

One question: “What’s the correct legal action to take to remove Guo from office if she is indeed not a Filipino?” [Note: Bamban Vice Mayor Leonardo Anunciacion has not joined moves to unseat Guo.]

Atty. Mac’s reply: “A petition for quo warranto may be filed by the Solicitor General to remove Guo from office on the ground that she is not a Filipino citizen. But while the SolGen may file it, it may take a long time to resolve it… baka tapos na ang term of office ni Guo on June 30, 2025, and she is re-elected to another term in the 2025 polls, hindi pa tapos ang kaso. The case will be filed before the Regional Trial Court. If there’s any adverse decision of the RTC, Guo can file a motion for reconsideration. This alone will take time to resolve. If she loses at the RTC, she can appeal to the Court of Appeals; if she loses at first try, she can file an MR at CA. If his MR is denied by CA, she can go to the Supreme Court for another appeal. Baka naka-three terms na siya hindi pa natapos ang case nya.”

As to whether Sen. Grace Poe, whose citizenship case is sometimes cited, is a natural-born Filipino, Macalintal said the Supreme Court has answered that in the affirmative. He noted that the high court’s ruling handed down on March 8, 2016, is final and executory.

* * *

SOLICITOR General Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said it is too early to say his office has a legal basis to file a quo warranto case against Mayor Guo.

“We’ll gather, finalize, consolidate all available evidence,” he said. “And on the basis of these evidence, we’ll determine exactly what cause of action — what kind of legal action or complaint we’re going to file. But for now, it’s too premature to say that we have a basis to file a quo warranto proceeding against the mayor.”

He added that they were also looking at “other possible causes of action” aside from quo warranto. Like maybe what we have called elsewhere as the “Al Capone” route?

Not a few politicians find Income Tax Returns (ITRs), as well as Statements of Assets and Liabilities & Net Worth (SALNs), pesky topics, so let’s see if open discussions on officials’ tax reportage and payments would excite people.

For one, then President Rodrigo Duterte, hounded by questions about his alleged bulging bank accounts has steadfastly refused to disclose his SALNs despite the heckling and the laws requiring disclosure and accountability.

But here comes a small-town mayor disclosing her SALN data! When Guo declared P367 million in assets and P189 million in liabilities, she might have inadvertently set a bad example for secretive high officials who keep their SALNs under lock and key.

* * *

THE LOCAL legal landscape is different, but the SolGen may try using on Mayor Guo something like what the US government did to notorious mobster Al Capone – involving mainly the filing of a tighter federal tax evasion case after disparate other big cases failed.

In the “roaring twenties”, Capone ruled a criminal empire in Chicago spanning gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, protection rackets, and murder. He seemed untouchable.

The US government needed a federal crime to hang a case on. Jurisdiction over the various crimes attributed to Capone – including the murder of his gangland rivals in the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” – was scattered among several agencies, making case buildup and prosecution complicated.

Then in 1929, Capone in Florida was subpoenaed as a witness before a federal grand jury in Chicago for a Prohibition case. [Believe it or not, from 1920 to 1933, the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in America!]

Capone claimed he could not make it because he was down with pneumonia. But agents reported he was actually mostly at the races or having fun in the Bahamas.

On March 27 he was cited for contempt of court in Chicago. While he managed to be released on bail, from then on the long arm of the law appeared to be catching up on him.

He was arrested shortly in Philadelphia for carrying concealed weapons and jailed for a year. Upon release, he was convicted for the original contempt of court charge and jailed six months.

By that time, Treasury agents had gathered evidence that Capone had failed to pay income taxes – for which, on Oct. 24, 1931, he was meted 11 years. When released from Alcatraz prison, he was suffering from paresis, too broken to resume his criminal lifestyle. He died of a stroke in 1947 in Florida.

* * *

WE SENSED an Al Capone-type approach going around Guo’s citizenship defense when the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission was reported to be preparing tax evasion charges and violation of securities laws against her.

The alleged Securities Regulation Code violation refers to Guo’s reported connections with the Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc. in Bamban, which was raided last year, and the Baofu Land Development Inc.

These are apart from charges filed earlier by the Department of the Interior and Local Government against Guo in relation to the recent Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) raid in Bamban.

The bad news is that the tax evasion charges are reportedly not ready yet. The data and figures needed to pin her down have not even been consolidated and audited?

Keeping on the pressure during the case buildup, the Ombudsman has suspended Guo preventively on a DILG complaint that she issued a business permit to Zun Yuan Technology despite its having an expired license.

Last March, authorities raided Zun Yuan’s 10-hectare compound resulting in the rescue of around 800 alleged victims of human trafficking and torture.

Meanwhile, the government has to find fast a neat way of dispelling the impression that a Chinese mayor has been running Bamban reasonably well enough despite her occasional attacks of selective amnesia.

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