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Philippine politicians who have run for election behind bars

Being accused or convicted of major crimes in the Philippines is no barrier to running for public office

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima has spent five years in jail on drug trafficking charges, accusations so serious she is not eligible for bail. But she can still contest elections.

Being accused or convicted of major crimes in the Philippines is no barrier to running for public office — unless the hopefuls have exhausted their legal options.

Under the law, a person must be “sentenced by final judgment” to be disqualified from running. Therefore someone convicted of a crime can still run as long as he or she has an appeal pending with the courts.



Here are five politicians who have campaigned — most successfully — from behind bars:

Gloria Arroyo

Former president Gloria Arroyo faced allegations of corruption and election fraud that ignited coup attempts during her near decade in the country’s highest office.

She was forced to stand down in 2010 due to constitutional term limits and won a seat in parliament — but was arrested the following year on charges of electoral sabotage.

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Due to a spinal disease she was allowed to be detained in a military hospital where she ran and won re-election twice as a congresswoman.

She was released in 2016 after the Supreme Court dismissed a corruption case against her.

Joel and Mario Reyes

Brothers Joel and Mario Reyes ran for mayor and vice mayor respectively of the resort town of Coron on Palawan island in 2016 even though they were in jail accused of masterminding the murder of a prominent environmentalist in 2011.

They lost, but it was not the end of their political careers.

Mario, who was freed on bail in 2016, successfully ran for mayor in 2019 and is seeking re-election in the May 9 polls this year.

Joel, an ex-governor of Palawan, was released in 2018 after a court voided the case against him.

He is now running for his old job, despite having a corruption conviction on his CV and facing a warrant for his arrest over the revived 2011 murder case.

Senator Antonio Trillanes (Photo by Vincent Go)

Antonio Trillanes

Former navy officer Antonio Trillanes was in jail after leading a coup attempt against then-president Gloria Arroyo when he was elected to the Senate in 2007.

During his trial that year for the failed mutiny, Trillanes and his supporters stormed out of the courtroom and took over the Peninsula hotel in Manila’s financial district — and again demanded Arroyo be removed from office.

He was pardoned by Arroyo’s successor, Benigno Aquino, in 2010, and was re-elected in 2013.

He is running for the Senate again in 2022 after a failed bid for the vice presidency in 2016.

Romeo Jalosjos Sr

Romeo Jalosjos Sr was a congressman when he was convicted in 1997 of raping an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to life in jail.

He successfully ran for re-election from behind bars in 1998 and 2001.

His congressional seat was declared vacant in 2002 after the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal with finality.

In 2007, then-president Gloria Arroyo — his political ally — reduced his sentence and he walked free two years later.

He tried to run for mayor of Zamboanga City in 2013 elections but was disqualified by the poll body due to his rape conviction.

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