Sunday , June 24, 2018

Ombudsman sacks Councilor James Cuenco

THE Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal from service of Cebu City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco for his involvement in the implementation of a P3.3-million medicine assistance program charged to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of his father, former Cebu City congressman Antonio Cuenco.

In a decision signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the anti-graft office found Cuenco and Manual Tipgos guilty of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct for using falsified documents in the disbursement of public funds.

Aside from dismissal from service, the decision also carried accessory penalties such as cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification to hold public office.

Sought for comment, Cuenco declined to talk about the matter, saying that he is still consulting his lawyers. He said he will call for a press conference today to discuss his plans.

Cuenco was the chief of staff and administrator of the Tony N’ Tommy (TNT) program in 2001, which gave medical assistance to indigent patients in Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC).

After three years of the program, allegations of forgery and falsification of prescriptions and referrals surfaced.

Under the memorandum of agreement (MOA) that the older Cuenco and VSMMC entered into in 2001, the hospital would screen, interview and determine the qualifications of the beneficiaries through its social worker.

However, the former congressman put up his own office for the program and took over all the processes.

The anti-graft body, in its decision, gave weight to the findings of the special audit team of the Commission on Audit that the implementation of TNT program did not follow provisions of the MOA between then congressman Cuenco and the VSMMC.

“Examination of the pertinent records and interviews conducted with the personnel involved showed that the supposed beneficiaries of the TNT program were mostly non-existent and the documents supporting the claims for payment of the medicines supposedly drawn by them were falsified. The SAT also observed that, apart from the preparation of the payment documents, there was no actual procedure followed in implementing TNT program,” read portion of the decision.

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Cebu City Acting Director Emma Joyevelyn Calvo said the decision was served to Cuenco’s office last Tuesday afternoon.

Since the decision was already served, Calvo said Cuenco will be barred from holding office already.

Calvo said since there is vacancy in the City Council, Section 45 of the Local Government Code will apply.

Barug Team Rama councilors, including Cuenco, ran under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) during the May 2016 elections. This means that the group will have to endorse someone for Cuenco’s replacement.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña said Cuenco’s dismissal from service goes to show what Team Rama is all about.

“I feel sorry for the Cuenco family because James is now a disgrace to his whole family,” he said.

For his part, Councilor Joel Garganera, an ally of Cuenco, believed that Osmeña had a hand in the decision.

He said the mayor is moving heaven and earth because he can’t let go of the majority in the City Council.