Ombudsman probes PAO’s Acosta, Erfe for alleged corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   August 16, 2019   •   1108

Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday confirmed it is investigating Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta and Forensic Laboratory chief Dr. Erwin Erfe for alleged graft and corruption.

In a statement, the Ombudsman said it is currently conducting preliminary and administrative adjudication against Acosta and Erfe on corruption allegations within PAO including the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine issue.

The case stemmed from the complaints filed early this year by lawyer Wilfredo Garrido Jr. who sought for the suspension of Acosta and Erfe for allegedly committing corruption, falsification, malversation and illegal use of public funds or property.

The two PAO officials supposedly made money in alleged illegal purchases of office supplies for their crusade against Dengvaxia in 2018.

Acosta was also accused of using PAO budget to hold seminars at luxury hotels as she supposedly receives a commission for every gathering.

The Ombudsman said that after Garrido’s complaints were evaluated and docketed in April 2019, an order was immediately issued, directing the respondents to file their respective counter-affidavits.

“Records from the criminal and administrative cases show that respondents are facing criminal charges for violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(j) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices), Falsification by Public Officer, Malversation and Illegal Use of Public Funds or Property,” the statement read.

Administrative charges for Grave Misconduct, Serious Dishonesty, Grave Abuse of Authority and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, were also leveled against Acosta and Erfe,” it added.

Acosta and Erfe have denied the allegations in a consolidated counter-affidavit they filed last April 30.

The Office of the Ombudsman said several other pleadings were filed by the respective parties during the course of the investigation, including the one signed by alleged “DOJ PAO lawyers.”

The Ombudsman said that as of August, the parties were directed to file their respective verified position papers containing their positions, supporting evidence and defenses.

“The corruption allegations against the high-ranking PAO officials will be judiciously scrutinized and the cases shall be resolved solely on the basis of the evidence presented by the parties,” Ombudsman Samuel Martires said.

Malacañang earlier said it will not interfere with the case.

Ombudsman suspends lifestyle checks on government officials, employees

Marje Pelayo   •   September 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman Samuel Martires has temporarily suspended the conduct of lifestyle checks among government officials and employees.

“Ngayong ako’y nag-assume bilang Ombudsman, ipinatigil ko muna iyong lifestyle check dahil matagal na ako may question. May duda ako sa probisyon ng batas tungkol sa lifestyle check,” Martires said.

[Now that I assumed as the Ombudsman, I ordered the suspension of lifestyle check because I personally have questions regarding it. I doubt the provision of the law on lifestyle check.]

During Tuesday’s (September 22) hearing at the Lower House on the 2021 proposed budget of his office, Martires clarified why he also imposed stricter rules on the release of a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of government officials. 

Martires observed that many use such an important document for their own interest just to pin down their rivals.

The Ombudsman stressed the need to amend Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees because it is, most of the time, misconstrued. 

“I was about to propose sa Congress to amend Republic Act 6713 because there are provisions there na hindi malabo pero parang walang hulog sa logic [which may be clear but illogical],” the former Supreme Court Justice said.

Martires believes no one has the right to judge any government employee for his or her priorities in life or if he or she chooses to live beyond his or her means.

“Let me explain why I suspended it. They say: ‘You are living beyond your means.’ There’s a government employee who earns about P50,000 a month and tries to save his money so he can buy his dream car. He was able to save money. When BMW announced a sale, he was able to give a down payment. He is able to pay for it monthly. Can we say he is living beyond his means? I don’t think so. Probably he must have distorted values. He must have distorted priorities,” he shared.

“Ano ang pakialam natin sa buhay ng may buhay kung hindi naman siya nagnanakaw? Kung wala siyang inaagrabyadong tao? Kung siya’y nangungutang lang para masunod ang layaw niya? [Why bother with another person’s life when he is not stealing anything? When he is not aggrieving anyone? If he borrows money just to buy himself luxury?] I mean this is something that we really have to re-define,” he added.

But the official clarified that his strict policy on the release of SALN is limited only to SALNs under the custody of his office.

He explained that a SALN has no use in several cases in court even in plunder but many are using it as well as the policy for lifestyle checking to malign the person of an employee of the government.

As for the agency’s budget, Ombudsman Martires expressed dismay over a slash in their proposed budget amounting to P4.6-B which they planned to use for hiring additional personnel for them to effectively execute their mandate.

Moving forward, the official wants to create a bureau that will focus on the administrative cases against public servants and to hire additional field investigators. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Duterte commends Ombudsman’s efforts in PhilHealth probe

Marje Pelayo   •   September 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has nothing but praises for the Office of the Ombudsman on its investigation on the irregularities inside the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

In the duration of the probe, Ombudsman Samuel Martires suspended for six months 13 officials of the embattled agency.

The president said the relationship between the executive branch and the ombudsman has improved a lot.

“No other time na ang rapport ng Ombudsman sa Executive department ay maganda ang samahan. [There’s no other time that the rapport between the Ombudsman and the Executive department is smooth.] It’s a matter of human relations. How you present the problem. And I find Martires, a very reasonable man,” the President said. 

He said he also understands Ombudsman Martires’ desire to finally end the controversies in PhilHealth.

“Iyong (pinalabas) ng PhilHealth, sunod-sunod. Sabi ko, I think he’s trying his best to help us. Kung ganoon ang sitwasyon, at least we’re better off. At least, for now,” President Duterte said. -MNP (with reports from Rosalie Coz)

Sotto, Lacson want fresh probe into alleged PhilHealth corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   July 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said a fresh investigation should be conducted into the alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) following the resignation of one of its officers.

“There must be a full blown Senate investigation. Allegations and denials abound therefore diligence is necessary,” Sotto said in a statement.

“Where there is smoke, there is fire!” he added.

Lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith resigned from his post in PhilHealth citing “widespread corruption” in the agency as one of his reasons for quitting. He also said in his resignation letter that the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contribution by overseas Filipinos workers was “unconstitutional” and against his personal values to let OFWs “pay for the spillages” of the agency.

He also claimed that there is rampant and patent unfairness in the agency’s promotion process, and that his salary and hazard pay has not been on time since he started investigating Philhealth officers as its “anti-fraud legal officer.”

According to Senator Panfilo Lacson, he is now drafting a resolution seeking for an inquiry into the issue.

“I am now drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry. As expressed by SP Sotto to me last night, this inquiry will be one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday,” Lacson said in a separate statement.

Reports quoting sources said that corruption claims were the topic of an online meeting that led to a shouting match between Philhealth officials on Thursday evening.

“That such corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable,” Lacson said.

“Nakakasuya na sobra. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately, as part of its oversight mandate, having passed the Universal Health Law,” he added.

Last year, the Senate launched a probe into alleged conflict of interest between PhilHealth and the Department of Health. The investigation also covered DOH contracts that went to pharmaceutical firms owned by relatives of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales earlier denied claims of widespread corruption in the agency and called on Keith to substantiate his allegations. He also said that Keith only raised the issue after his application for another post at the agency was turned down.

Morales also denied the alleged resignation of two other PhilHealth officers due to corruption allegations. He said his head executive assistant resigned to pursue his doctoral studies while a corporate counsel denied any news of quitting his post. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)


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