EXPLAINER: Where’s Aloguinsan, Cebu ex-mayor Cynthia Moreno? Has she been brought before Sandiganbayan, which issued at least two warrants for her arrest? Last news, in November, about Moreno: SC rejected her request for house arrest.

KEY ISSUE: Whether Cynthia Moreno, former mayor of Aloguinsan, Cebu – convicted of corruption in one case and still to face trial charge in another – has remained at large or already surrendered to undergo the process of accountability.

WHAT THE PUBLIC DOESN’T KNOW. Last November 16, 2022, the government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported that the Supreme Court (SC) denied the petition of Mrs. Moreno for house arrest while serving her sentence for graft meted out in June 2014 by the Sandiganbayan. (Two other news outlets, Abogado.com and The Daily Tribune, reported it a week later. No showing that the local media published the story.)

The case involved P1.1 million worth of aluminum panels bought without public bidding (a “mock bidding” was used, the court said, in cover-up), with the ruling made final and executory in 2019. The Sandiganbayan sentenced Cynthia Moreno and seven others to jail, from six years and one month to 10 years.

Mrs. Moreno, through her lawyers, wanted to be placed under house arrest, supervised by the local BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology), instead of serving her term in prison.

No way, the SC agreed with the anti-graft court, “By no stretch of the imagination could this be...a judicial precedent allowing a convicted criminal” to serve sentence outside a regular jail because of poor health. The court, the SC said, has “no discretion” to allow “home care/house arrest.” Also, Moreno didn’t submit health records, which may lead one to ask, Would the court have allowed it if she did?

Since the publication of the SC story, there has been no news about Moreno: whether she had been arrested with her seven co-accused or she surrendered to serve her sentence. The public doesn’t know if she is still at large.

NOT THE FIRST TIME. There were at least two previous court orders that drew public interest in Cynthia Moreno’s whereabouts:

[1] On February 8, 2017, news reports said the Sandiganbayan first division ordered the arrest of Cynthia Moreno, five Aloguinsan officials and two others in connection with the town’s purchase of the earlier mentioned P1.1 million construction materials. At the same time, the anti-graft court dumped Moreno’s petitions for relief from judgment, which found her and her co-accused guilty. The new warrant followed an earlier warrant of October 26, 2016. The Sandiganbayan said that “to reopen the case would be tantamount to a review or reevaluation of the final verdict of the Supreme Court upholding the conviction of the accused.”

Atty. Inocencio de la Cerna, Moreno’s lawyer, said at the time that his client still had “multiple judicial actions” and they’d “exhaust all available remedies.” Those measures must include the petition for house arrest, which the SC ruled on five years after.

[2] On February 22, 2022, the Sandiganbayan third division convicted former mayor Augustus Caesar Moreno, Cynthia Moreno’s husband, and bookkeeper Evangeline Manigos for violation of the anti-corruption law in connection with the 2010 purchases, totaling 29, of food supplies worth P282,725 from AVG Bakery whose registered owner was Mrs. Moreno. Augustus Caesar and Manigos were reportedly sentenced to a jail term of up to 20 years each and forever barred from public office. Augustus Caear, the mayor, the anti-graft court said, “actually participated or intervened in his official capacity” and had “direct interest” in both the town government’s transactions and the bakery his wife owned.

At the same time, the court ordered the arrest of Mrs. Moreno and four members of the local bid and awards committee, whose cases were archived until she and her co-accused would be brought to the jurisdiction of the court. “Let the appropriate warrants be issued,” ordered the Sandiganbayan.

GAP IN THE STORY. A gap in the narrative, basing on news media reports, is the question of Moreno’s arrest or surrender: at least between two arrest orders, in 2017 and in 2022, the anti-graft court did not have jurisdiction over Cynthia Moreno. Where was – and is – the former mayor who was still to serve one conviction and to face trial for another?

LAST REPORTED SEARCH. SunStar reported on February 10, 2017 -- in a story headlined “Ex-mayor, 7 others are no longer in Aloguinsan” -- the finding of the town police who tried to serve the anti-graft court’s February 8, 2017 warrant against Cynthia Moreno and her co-accused in the construction materials case. The police went to the house of each of the accused and the human resources department of the local government. They weren’t there: the Morenos were said to be attending a wedding in the city and the others were on leave and not in their respective residence.

The warrant was directed not just to the Aloguinsan police chief: the PNP and NBI regional heads were ordered as well. Apparently, despite available resources of law enforcement, she couldn’t be located. After 10 days of search, the town police reported the failure by returning by mail the Sandiganbayan’s arrest warrant.

MORENOS STILL RULE. Morenos still run Aloguinsan, a fourth-class town 90 kms. by road southwest of Cebu City. With 21,251 registered voters among a population of 34,466, Aloguinsan elected three Morenos in 2022: Cesare Ignatius “Ig-ig” Moreno as mayor, 82.77 percent of the vote; Raisa Moreno as vice mayor, 100 percent; and Christian Moreno, #2 councilor. []