Roderick Paulate sentenced to 62 years in jail for graft, falsification over ‘ghost employes’ in QC

ACTOR and ex-councilor of Quezon City Roderick Paulate

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda

QUEZON CITY – The country’s graft court Sandiganbayan has convicted actor, comedian, television host and former Quezon City councilor Roderick Paulate for graft and nine counts of falsification of documents in connection with the hiring of “ghost employees” in 2010.

The 7th Division of the Sandiganbayan, in its 130-page decision promulgated on November 25, sentenced Paulate and his driver and liaison officer Vicente Bajamunde to six to eight years for graft and six months up to six years for each count of falsification or for a total of 62 years imprisonment for falsifying public records of up to 30 fictitious contractual workers assigned to his office.

The Sandiganbayan also ordered the perpetual disqualification of Paulate from public office.

Paulate and Bajamunde were also ordered to pay a fine of P1.1 million which is the total amount of the payrolls prepared for the job contractors.

Paulate was also fined P10,000 for each of the 30 falsification cases or a total of P300,000.

Paulate, 62, has not issued a statement on his conviction, but legal experts said he could still appeal the decision.

It can be recalled that after he was elected councilor in 2010 in Quezon City’s second district, Paulate was suspended from office after his alleged hiring of ghost employees from July to November of the same year. He was able to finish his term and served for another term from 2016 to 2019.

Paulate  ran for vice mayor in 2019 as the running mate of former 2nd district Representative Ismael Chuck Mathay but lost. In the May 2022 election, he ran for a city council seat in the 2nd district under the Malayang QC ticket of former congressman Michael Defensor, but was also unsuccessful.

The case against Paulate was officially filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2018, which said the actor-politician falsified a Job Order/Contract of Service, including the signatures of fictitious contractors to oblige the city government to allocate funds for their salaries.

The court found Paulate acted with evident bad faith and caused undue injury to the government when he approved the hiring of fictitious persons as job contractors.

“Accused made it appear that the 30 job contractors rendered services as field inspectors, office aides and district coordinators from July to December 2010 when there were no such job order personnel who worked and received salaries during said period because they are fictitious,” the Sandiganbayan 7th Division stated in its ruling.

The issues cited by the graft court included the lack of birth certificates of the job contractors.  Paulate argued during trial that certification of no birth does not conclusively prove that a person is fictitious.

“This may be rebutted by sufficient contrary evidence, however, Paulate and Bajamunde have not presented any competent evidence to counter the negative certifications and certificates of no record,” the court said in the decision penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses, with the concurrence of Division Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo.

“It bears noting that the job order contracts and general payrolls are deemed falsified documents because the job contractors subject therein do not exist. Accused (Paulate) maintained their existence and thus, to overcome the prosecution’s claim, accused only need to prove that they exist. Unfortunately, he failed in this respect,” stated the decision penned by Associate Justice Zaldy V. Trespeses.

The court  noted that the job order employees have no record in the National Bureau of Investigation Clearance Database.

While all 30 employees are residents of Quezon City based on their personal data sheet (PDS), they could not be located during verifications conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman as to their residences or schools attended, the ruling stated.

The court also took note that two of the job contractors appeared as “identical twins” based on their photos in their PDS and yet their personal details differed.

“These details may appear trivial, but they cast serious doubt on the genuineness of the PDS and existence of the job contractors when taken with the other pieces of evidences presented by the prosecution,” the court decision stated.

Prosecution witnesses presented during the trial included state auditor Emilda Navarro who testified, among others, that she had not seen any daily time records for the job order personnel.

Defense witness Hubert Fernandez who served as Paulate’s chief of staff from 2010 to 2019 stated in his testimony that their area coordinators were the ones who looked for 30 people from their pool of volunteers during the campaign period.

In his defense, Paulate testified that the money in question went to the job order personnel and there were no complaints from the employees that they did not receive their salaries.

He also testified that the charges were politically motivated and the hired job contractors and their relatives just opted not to come out and talk about the issue for fear of reprisal.

The court, however, stressed in its ruling that Paulate cannot claim good faith and invoke the Arias doctrine to avoid criminal liability.

“Certainly, he failed to act in accordance with the demands of the responsibility that attaches to the office he was occupying,” the court stated.

The court said Paulate took advantage of his position and used the documents to obligate the funds and disburse them.

“..(I)t can safely be concluded that he was the author of the falsification or asked somebody else to prepare the falsified documents,” the court stated.

“These are not just mere inaccuracies in the PDS entries that could be considered as innocuous but are indicative of an intent to introduce fictitious information. The defense even listed the job contractors as their witnesses during the pre-trial. However, as bolstered by the records, none of the job contractors were presented to testify and prove their existence,” the anti-graft court stated.

The Sandiganbayan also said the testimonies of defense witnesses were merely denials that the job order workers are fictitious and are unsubstantiated by any positive evidence as to their existence.

“It is well settled that testimonial evidence is easy to fabricate. Thus, in the weighing of evidence, documentary  evidence prevails over testimonial evidence. Accused Paulate and all defense witnesses are consistent in their statements that they are not familiar with or have not met the job contractors and yet, they did not verify their existence during the submission of the PDS and until these cases have been filed,” the Sandiganbayan stated.

“Only one thing comes to our mind: they know that there is nothing to verify because the job contractors do not exist. Further, assuming that there was an effort to locate  the job contractors, the fact that not even one of  them could be located only strengthens the prosecution’s claim that the PDS were fabricated and that these  job contractors are indeed fictitious,” the Sandiganbayan added

Paulate was elected as Quezon City councilor in 2010 and was later accused of hiring 30 job order (JO) workers from July to December 2010. He issued certifications after every 15th and end of the month that the job contractors rendered services for 40 hours a week.

He also designated his then driver, co-accused Bajamunde, as liaison officer and authorized him to receive in bulk the wages of the job contractors.

During those months, Paulate’s office received P125,000 every payday, totaling P1.109 million.

Verifications made on entries in the personal data sheets of the hired job contractors later revealed that they have no birth records, NBI application, or school records and their addresses could not be located.