CEBU CITY -- An official of the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) blamed the loss of at least 28 checks on the lack of personnel who could have helped verify transactions before the checks were released.

But Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and a city councilor said that is "a very lame excuse" and the lack of personnel should not keep an accountable official from efficiently fulfilling his or her duties.

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Lourdes Archua, credit officer IV of CCMC's Business and Finance Department, said she had only seven personnel on May 4, the day she released the 28 checks to Concha Ruth Adlawan, who claimed to be an employee of PhilHealth.

The PhilHealth checks amounted to at least P240,000.

Archua said her PhilHealth clerk was taking the day off, while the reliever had been on sick leave for a month.

In her seven-page letter to CCMC head Dr. Myrna Go, Archua said her department, which is undermanned, has been saddled with so much work.

Archua recalled she was checking, reviewing and signing the daily time records of her personnel that day.

She also reviewed and signed 15 PhilHealth claims, supervised and attended to problems encountered by her subordinates who billed 44 patients that day, attended to 10 clients with promissory notes and 18 clients whose bills would be covered by the City or the Priority Development Assistance Funds entrusted to CCMC.

"Amid the hectic day, a call coming from PhilHealth that the checks it issued to CCMC would be dishonored, if not stamped with a seal that day, made me frantic because if I would not act with dispatch, to my mind, CCMC would stand to lose a total amount of P239,460.25 from 28 PhilHealth checks," she said.

Days before Archua released the checks to Adlawan, a certain Kristine and Mary Ann Garcia, who also claimed to be PhilHealth employees, informed her about a change in the government insurance agency's system.

They said, emphasizing urgency, that all check payments issued by PhilHealth must be withdrawn and stamped with the agency's seal, otherwise, the checks will not be honored.

At 3 p.m. on May 4, Archua said, Adlawan arrived at CCMC and showed her an authorization letter from Mary Ann, who claimed to be from the Credit and Collection Department of PhilHealth.

"The documents presented and PhilHealth's several calls and representations left me little time to doubt and verify if PhilHealth has indeed a new system, which system required their checks stamped with their seal," said Archua.

"The loss of the 28 checks is likewise considered amidst the backdrop of lack of personnel in my department who could have assisted me in further verification and counter-checking before the questioned checks were released," she said.

Nine checks amounting to P114,839.25 have been cashed. The hospital chief's signature was apparently forged. Stop-payment orders were issued before the remaining 19 checks could be cashed.

In a phone interview with Sun.Star Cebu Saturday, Mayor Rama said the lack of employees should not be an excuse.

According to her job description, Archua has the overall responsibility of overseeing the work of three units charged with the financial aspect of hospital operation: billing and collection unit, health insurance unit, and records unit.

"Kung naa kay failures, answerable ka ana. Have you exercised your duties and responsibilities? If you have proven that you have done it, then you are not liable, but if you have neglected your duties, you should face the consequences," he said.

Councilor Daluz III, who heads the council's committee on budget and finance, said he doesn't agree the loss is due to the lack of personnel.

"I don't agree with that. That's a very lame excuse," he said, but added he will accept Archua's explanation at face value.

Both Rama and Daluz have called for the City Attorney's Office to conduct a wider investigation, to prevent further losses. Both see no need for Archua's preventive suspension.

Asked if they think there is possible collusion that led to the release of the checks, Daluz said he is not thinking about it yet but Rama said the investigation will consider it.

Rama said he will take an active role in investigating the matter.

Daluz, on the other hand, will file a resolution asking Archua and other heads of CCMC to enlighten the council on the missing checks.

Daluz said he wants to know how long a check can be kept by CCMC before it is turned over to the City Treasurer's Office (CTO), as all money coming in for the city should be received by the CTO. He also wants to check what role the CTO plays in the billing section of the CCMC or if the hospital has full autonomy as regards its finances.

Archua emphasized the loss of the checks was mainly due to fraud perpetuated upon her and that the checks were released in good faith, "with nothing in mind but the interests of CCMC." (PDF of Sun.Star Cebu)