“We must bring the issue of mental illness out into the sunlight, out of the shadow, out of the closet, deal with it, treat people, have centers where people can get the necessary help.”
Some of his political enemies thought Syjuco and his wife, former Iloilo second districrt Rep. Judy, “were only using his sickness story” in order to wiggle out from the graft and corruption charges they were facing in the Sandiganbayan.
They suspected the couple was “dangling” Syjuco’s illness to appeal to people’s emotion and create an impression he wasn’t fit for a trial.
When Syjuco lost the support of many Ilonggo political leaders following the fading away of former President Gloria Arroyo’s magic, he stayed most of the time in Metro Manila and focused on how to clear his name after being slapped with graft cases.
He supported President Rodrigo Duterte during the presidential campaign and filed graft cases against former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Senator Franklin Drilon in order to be noticed in the media.
Very few people gave him attention and this reportedly bothered him a lot as he used to bask in glory and prominence when he was the TESDA boss and when he and ex-Rep. Judy were lording over the politics in the second district of Iloilo under the Arroyo administration.
Syjuco needed only a short stay in Singapore, they argued, as he was taking a medicine called Azacitidine, which was not yet available in the Philippines.
Since the new medicine would be administered on Syjuco, their lawyers appealed for an extension of their trip until February 22.
Once the most popular political couple in Iloilo, the Syjucos faced various cases in the Sandiganbayan over their alleged anomalous use of public funds.
These were on the alleged anomalous awarding of TESDA scholarships, purchase of more than 1,500 cellphone units, and the supposed implementation of a district-wide poultry project.
Syjuco and former Department of Agriculture (DA) Western Visayas regional director Eduardo Lecciones were convicted by the Sandiganbayan of “fraud against public treasury” in relation to a P4.3-million cash grant following their guilty pleas last year.
Syjuco and Lecciones were ordered to pay P17,000 each, a penalty called as “a slap in the wrist” by the former TESDA boss’ political opponents.
Syjuco, who was then representative of Iloilo second district, favored his own non-governmental organization as a conduit in a cash grant that was approved by the DA through Lecciones, in 2000.
The two pleaded guilty instead of waiting for the trial of graft and malversation cases lodged against them.
As to his other cases, they are expected to “die” naturally following Syjuco’s demise.
Rest in peace, Secretary Syjuco.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)