Friday July 20, 2018

Editorial: The case that did Cuenco in

BECAUSE of the current battle for control in the Cebu City Council, the suspicion that Mayor Tomas Osmeña may have a hand in the dismissal of Councilor James Anthony Cuenco from public service could sound credible. Besides, the case that did Cuenco in at the Office of the Ombudsman is based on alleged irregularities committed in 2003-2004, the details of which many people have forgotten. They, therefore, could not come up with an objective appraisal.

The case that led the anti-graft office to order Cuenco’s dismissal is a serious one involving the use (or misuse) of the now maligned Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), spent for medical assistance for indigents at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center by then congressman Antonio Cuenco, James’s father.

The program was called Tony N’Tommy, which reflected the tendency at that time to use the PDAF, the congressional pork barrel, to advance political goals. The “Tony” in that name was the older Cuenco while the “Tommy” was Osmeña. Tony and Tommy were long-time political allies until they had a falling-out at a time when Cuenco was near the end of his political career.

The problem started when, in 2002, the office of the older Cuenco took over from VSMMC workers the task of identifying beneficiaries of the medical assistance. James was at that time his father’s chief political affairs officer. Months later, questions arose on the conduct of the program’s implementation, especially on the sourcing of the medicines and the identity of the beneficiaries (alleged to be “ghosts”).

The biggest blow was when doctors executed affidavits claiming that their signatures were forged in prescriptions that were worth P3.47 million. Worse, the Commission on Audit (COA) did find irregularities involving the TNT program.

What this shows is that the case against James is much too complicated and deep to be considered politically motivated. If Osmeña did have a hand in his dismissal, it must merely be peripheral.

James had vowed to prove his innocence by going to the Court of Appeals, but in the meantime, the Ombudsman decision finding him liable hangs over his head.