CEBU City Medical Center's (CCMC) credit officer who released 28 Phil-health checks to an alleged swindler will be placed on a 60-day preventive suspension starting today, to keep her from meddling in the investigation.
This, as Mayor Michael Rama wants the rediscounting business and other illegal activities in City Hall stopped.
His order came after Rama learned six of the 28 missing checks of Phil-health issued to CCMC ended up in the hands of a City Hall employee who is in the rediscounting
The City Attorney's Office will serve today the preventive suspension order to Lourdes Archua, the head of the CCMC business and finance department.
Lawyer Gloria Lastimo-sa-Dalawampu, legal counsel of Archua, said they will question the issuance of a preventive suspension order, which she finds unnecessary.
“Para nako, dili bug-at ang hinungdan aning preventive suspension. If that will be served tomorrow, we will question that. My client is not being treated fairly in this case, she is not treated well at all. Instead of being suspended, she should even be recognized for doing everything she can to prevent any monetary losses on the part of the City,” said Dalawampu.
City Attorney Joseph Bernaldez said he suspects a syndicate that possibly involves employees of the city hospital, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Philhealth may be behind the unauthorized taking of 28 checks issued by the latter to CCMC.
He said yesterday this is one of the angles they will look into in their investigation, as well as the possibility the allegedly fraudulent activities have been going on long before they were discovered last May.
“I strongly believe there is a possibility that there is a syndicate operating here, which does not only involve CCMC employees, it might also involve Philhealth and there's also a possibility that LBP might also be involved here, but that's only my opinion,” said Bernaldez.
He told reporters yesterday only Archua will be on preventive suspension for now, because the initial findings point to her as the one responsible for the loss of the checks.
This also does not mean CCMC Chief Dr. Myrna Go will not be included in the probe.
“At the initial stage of our investigation, we found out na ang ebidensya, murag mas bug-at ngadto kang Archua, but initial pa ni tanan. Sa among tanaw, wala pa kaayo’y ebidensiya na magtumbok ug maayo ngadto ni Dr. Go. So in the meantime, ang amo lang usa gi issuehan ug suspension order is si Archua,” he explained.
The city attorney reiterated a preventive suspension is not a penalty yet, and is just a measure they are taking to make sure those being investigated will not be able to influence the conduct and findings of the investigation.
He explained if an official under investigation has people under her, he or she may possibly keep them from shedding light on the issues at hand.
But for Dalawampu, this is not enough grounds to put her client under preventive suspension because Archua cannot use her position to influence the investigation.
Through Archua's efforts, she said Philhealth replaced the missing checks and as a result, the City did not suffer from any loss of funds, Sun.Star Cebu repeatedly tried to interview Archua but she declined from making any comment on the matter, saying her lawyer will speak on her behalf.
In a June 7, 2010 letter addressed to Go, Archua admitted she had released 28 checks to a certain Concha Ruth Adlawan who introduced herself as a Philhealth employee last May 4.
Six of the checks worth some P80,000 were brought to a city employee at City Hall for rediscounting last May 13, and were deposited in the employee's bank account the following day.
The employee said Adlawan came to him with an authorization letter signed by Go and showed him Go's City Hall ID, that is why he was convinced to replace the check with cash.
Although he deposited the six checks, these were not cleared or negotiated by LBP after noticing alterations and other technical defects on the check.
Philhealth public relations officer Karisma Agraviador said yesterday this is the reason they replaced the six missing checks and issued the same amount to CCMC. The 22 other checks will be replaced once they become stale checks, or if they are not negotiated after six months.
Both Agraviador and LBP Regional Manager Ruel Romarate took exception to allegations of collusion or that their employees could be involved in a syndicate.
“This is the first time we encountered a situation where some people pretended to be Philhealth employees to take some checks. The possibility of a collusion or syndicate is very far-fetched because those who took the checks are not in our roll of employees,” Agraviador said.
In an earlier interview, Romarate said it is also not possible for their employees to be involved. They even verified the checks and refused to negotiate it in favor of the city employee who deposited them after noticing the irregularities.
As for the rediscounting of checks in City Hall, Bernaldez said there may be an administrative sanction for those involved in such activities, “because rediscounting of checks is not part and parcel of your functions in City Hall. It's not proper.”
As for the employee doing rediscounting, Rama ordered Bernaldez to look for him.
However, the employee approached Bernaldez and sought help when he learned some of the stolen checks are in his possession.
The employee, who has been working in City Hall for 20 years now, claimed he was a victim since the bank returned the checks.
Meanwhile, the mayor also wants all fixers and loan sharks out of City Hall. (By Linette C. Ramos Of Sun.Star Cebu with Elly T. Bolonos)