Probe in ‘05 junked plaint vs. ex-solon-A A +A
Saturday, August 17, 2013
FORMER Cebu City south district congressman Antonio Cuenco was named in the 2005 complaint on the alleged misuse of his P3.5-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The complaints, filed by an employee of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), accused the former congressman and four officials of the hospital of graft, dishonesty and grave misconduct for allegedly misusing the funds that were intended for medicines of indigent residents of Cebu City south district.
But graft investigator Jose Ronald Bersales dismissed the complaints against Cuenco and dropped the former legislator's name from the docket.
“Without any prescribed written guidelines for the utilizations of PDAF, there would be no basis in concluding that the act of then congressman Cuenco in causing the transfer of the validation of prescriptions from the VSMMC social worker to his TNT (Tony ‘N Tommy) office is an overt act of conspiracy in the fraudulent utilizations of his PDAF released to the VSMMC,” he said in his order last March 6.
The Supreme Court (SC) earlier upheld the order of the Commission on Audit (COA) for VSMMC to return Cuenco's PDAF spent on prescriptions and anti-rabies vaccines.
COA discovered the funds went to non-existent patients through falsified prescriptions.
The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas will investigate Filomena delos Santos (former medical center chief), Josefa Bacaltos (former chief administrative officer), Nelanie Antoni (pharmacy chief) and Maureen Bien (hospital accountant, now finance chief).
Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol said the anti-graft body will conduct a preliminary investigation and may call the respondents for a clarificatory hearing.
A preliminary investigation is “an inquiry or proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient ground to get a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.”
In 2002, Cuenco’s office reportedly took over the responsibility of the VSMMC social worker in identifying the qualified patients for financial assistance and it established TNT as a screening office.
Since then, the validation of prescriptions and release of referrals did not pass through the social worker.
TNT office was reportedly operated by Cuenco’s son and incumbent Cebu City James Cuenco, Manuel Tipgos and Wendell Villacin.
Cuenco allegedly instructed the VSMMC pharmacist to get medicines from the Sacred Heart Pharmacy or Dell Pharmacy, the accredited supplier of the Department of Health (DOH), if medicines are not available at the VSMMC pharmacy.
Former TNT office employee James Yratoza, in his affidavit, said he used to prepare, process, and facilitate referrals of unknown and ghost patients, but no medicines were actually drawn from the pharmacy.
He alleged that Councilor Cuenco, Tipgos and Villacin were the ones who did the transactions.
Eight doctors executed affidavits, saying their signatures in the prescriptions were forged.
Bersales said the TNT office violated National Budget Circular (NBC) 476 when it took over the implementation of the congressman’s project funded by PDAF.
NBC 476 states that the DOH is the implementing agency of the PDAF intended for the benefit of regional hospitals, specialty hospitals and medical centers.
“In issue, therefore, as regards then congressman Cuenco, is whether his act of causing the transfer of the validation of the prescriptions and referral previously performed by the VSMMC social worker to his TNT office is a showing that he conspired in committing the fraudulent utilizations of his PDAF,” said Bersales.
But he pointed out that the Ombudsman’s Filed Investigation Office “failed to show that the Department of Budget and Management or DOH has written guidelines that the PDAF shall be solely processed and evaluated by the VSMMC.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 17, 2013.