CEBU CITY -- Six of the 28 missing checks issued to the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) ended up with a Cebu City Hall employee and were deposited in his account last May 14, or 10 days after they were released to an alleged swindler.

Despite this, a city councilor believes the possibility of collusion among city employees, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) in the loss of the checks is "far-fetched".

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The city employee, whose family runs a money-changing business, sought the help of the City Attorney's Office, saying he is the victim in the incident. He promised to cooperate in the probe.

He shelled out some P80,000 to replace six of the 28 checks taken by a swindler from Lourdes Archua, credit officer of CCMC's budget and finance department. But when he deposited these in his bank, his account was not credited with the amount and the checks were returned instead.

Councilor Ronald Cuenco, chairman of the City Council committee on health and hospital services, assured Monday the City Government did not lose anything from the incident.

He said the PhilHealth replaced the checks that were released to a certain Concha Ruth Adlawan.

"Definitely, there is no loss of money on the part of the City. Also, I don't think there is collusion among CCMC personnel and the culprits... Everything here in CCMC is in order. If anything, it's just simple negligence on the part of Mrs. Archua, so I will never say there is a collusion. Far-fetched ra na," he said in an interview at CCMC on Monday.

He said that CCMC Chief Dr. Myrna Go is preparing an affidavit to be submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), saying her signature has been forged and she did not authorize anyone to release the checks.

Go declined from commenting on the matter, and let Cuenco speak on her behalf.

City Attorney Joseph Bernaldez said Monday his office is inclined to impose preventive suspension on those involved in the controversy, but they first have to study carefully who will be suspended.

"As much as possible, those who are involved should be asked to keep their distance from the case so they will not be able to influence the probe. A preventive suspension is not a penalty, it's only a measure taken so the investigating parties can expect that those involved cannot dip their hands into the investigation," he explained.

Last May 4, CCMC's Archua was duped into releasing 28 PhilHealth checks to Adlawan, who introduced herself as a PhilHealth employee.

Adlawan told Archua the checks had to be returned to PhilHealth for stamping as part of the new procedure, otherwise the checks will not be honored by the bank.

Bernaldez said they will also invite the city employee who accepted the checks from Adlawan and replaced it with cash in a transaction known as "rediscounting of checks," before depositing them into his bank account.

On the condition of anonymity, the employee showed Sun.Star Cebu the three checks he replaced with cash. These were returned to him by his bank after LBP refused to honor them, due to alterations.

The check was paid to "Cebu City Medical Center" printed in computer ink, and with the line "Chief of Hospital Dr. Myrna Go" added on top in a lighter shade.

The employee, who has been working in City Hall for 20 years now, said he accepted the checks in good faith, after Adlawan presented to him an authorization letter signed by Go, as well as Go's City Hall ID.

"Limpyo gyud ang akong konsensya, ako ang biktima diri kay nakahatag gud kog P80,000 kapin unya wala gyud nako nakuha sa banko ang kwarta kay gi stop payment na man. Perte gyud nakong pagmahay na niilis ko ato, pero unsaon ta man, disgrasya man (My conscience is clear. I am the victim. I gave over P80,000 but never got any money in return)," he said.

He said that his only fault was that he did not verify the authenticity of the authorization letter with Go.

"Na-convince ko na dawaton ang cheke kay tanan nakong gipangayo nahatag man niya (Adlawan). Naay letter and ID ni Go. Mu-accommodate man gyud ko basta dakong tawo, CCMC chief gud na. Kinsa may wala nakaila ni Go, diba?" the employee said.

Unlike their other clients, from whom they collect one percent of the total amount of the check, he said he did not deduct anything from the amount of the PhilHealth checks.

In his news conference on Monday, Mayor Michael Rama said he will leave it to the City Attorney's Office and the NBI to conduct the parallel investigation.

The City Legal Office will take care of the administrative investigation, while the NBI will investigate the criminal aspect of the case.

"They will look into it and they need to abide by certain technical requirements because as I have said, there really will be some people who should be made responsible. There's always a presumption of regularity and that matter has to be established through an investigation. At the same time, those involved should be given due process," Rama said.

In a phone interview on Monday, LBP Regional Manager Ruel Romarate clarified it was not their bank that negotiated and cleared the checks.

In fact, he said, LBP Capitol Branch returned the checks to the employee's depository bank after bank officers noticed irregularities in the check.

"When the checks reached our bank, we returned them because of technical irregularities, that is why Land Bank did not negotiate them. Our employees are scrupulous and were quick to spot the alterations during the verification process. We did not negotiate them, and we did not debit it from PhilHealth's account," Romarate said.

The city employee said his depository bank initially credited the amount of the checks to his account, but when LBP did not clear the checks, the amount previously credited was also debited from his account.

Meanwhile, lawyer Reynan Oliva said the NBI subpoenaed PhilHealth to submit the original checks, as well as a certification that the person who got the check from CCMC is not their employee.

"They submitted photocopies only," he said.

NBI also asked for a specimen signature from the CCMC chief, whose signature was forged in the checks.

"Our investigation follows the paper trail," Oliva said. (LCR/KAL/Sun.Star Cebu)