By Christine O. Avendaño, Jeannette I. Andrade, August 14 2018; Philippine Daily Inquirer (Inquirer.net)
Image Credit to Inquirer.net
President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked 20 people, including colonels and a brigadier general, over accusations of fraud and graft in purchases of military medical supplies, Malacañang said on Monday.
Those sacked were accused of involvement in 17 cases of fictitious purchases of supplies, drugs and equipment at inflated prices, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters.
They are employees of V. Luna Medical Center and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Health Service Command (AFPHSC).
The military officials sacked faced a court-martial, Roque said.
He said those fired conspired to defraud the government of nearly P1.5 million in fraudulent transactions.
But the amount could go as high as “hundreds of millions” of pesos, as the alleged corruption had been going on even before the Duterte administration took over, Roque said.
“Apparently, it’s a conspiracy. It was institutional corruption in V. Luna,” he said.
Roque said the President ordered the relief and trial by court-martial of the military officials, including Brig. Gen. Edwin Leo Torrelavega, commander of the AFPHSC, and Col. Antonio Punzalan, commander of V. Luna Medical Center.
He said Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., the AFP chief of staff, had said he would immediately relieve Torrelavega and Punzalan and appoint a court-martial to try them without prejudice to an investigation by the Ombudsman for the military.
Roque said the President learned about the corruption through reports from Galvez and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
A whistleblower also came forward with the allegations, he added.
The President was “personally aggravated and angered,” having recently ordered that P50 million be made available to the main military hospital where the offenses took place, Roque said.
At a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Galvez said he was angered to learn that men in uniform had profited by inflating the prices of prostheses bought for soldiers who had lost limbs in battle.
Galvez said the corruption had been going on since 2016, but did not make clear whether during the last days of the Aquino administration or at the start of the Duterte administration.
The President took office at the end of June 2016.
Galvez said Torrelavega’s relief was over command responsibility and that the brigadier general was actually glad to be removed from AFPHSC because of corruption there.
But Torrelavega, he said, should know what was happening at his command and “the failure of his command will be his doing.”
“He failed to administer dutifully and diligently to prevent corruption,” Galvez said.
He said the others who would be court-martialed were enlisted men and officials with the ranks of lieutenant colonel and major and assigned to procurement, delivery, logistics and finance departments at V. Luna Medical Center.
According to Galvez, an initial complaint for five irregular transactions was received by the AFP in May this year and it led to a discreet investigation by the Intelligence Service of the AFP (Isafp) and the inspector general.
Galvez said that the Isafp found that corruption at V. Luna Medical Center was “systemic” where there was neither transparency nor a system of checks and balances in the procurement process.
It was also found that the chiefs of the logistics office and management and fiscal office, whom Galvez did not name, were involved in the procurement process from the start up to delivery.
Galvez said investigators were looking at 12 other allegedly irregular transactions involving medical supplies and the existence of an alleged cartel of suppliers, particularly of prostheses.
He said the relief of the commanders and the other officers would give the AFP a free hand in obtaining the records for an extensive investigation of the other transactions.
“The report of the Isafp is very extensive because it points to the whole system and the people involved. We have to correct [the system]. The AFP will fix this in one month,” he said. —With a report from the wires