CEBU CITY—The Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas is investigating the misuse of P3.4 million in government funds by four officials of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC).
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol ordered the fact-finding investigation after the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) that found four hospital officials liable for disbursing P3.4 million for antirabies medicines using falsified prescriptions and documents.
The SC ruling brought relief to the family of former Rep. Antonio Cuenco, whose pork barrel was used to purchase the medicines, according to his son.
Councilor James Cuenco said the audit findings cleared his father of suspicion that he, too, took part in the systematic theft of pork barrel funds.
Councilor Cuenco was his father’s chief of staff when the elder Cuenco tapped VSMMC for his medical program.
“It’s just unfortunate that the Supreme Court ruling was timed with the pork barrel controversy. But we are willing to face the music and if there is any more investigation, we will cooperate,” he said.
The management of the government-run medical facility vowed to cooperate in the investigation.
But two of the four officials had already retired.
Dr. Filomena de los Santos retired as VSMMC chief in 2006 and was replaced by Dr. Gerardo Aquino Jr. as medical center chief.
Josefa Bacaltos retired as chief administrative officer in 2004 and was replaced by Maricon Esparagoza.
But Nelanie Antoni and Maureen Bien are still in the hospital as pharmacy chief and accountant, respectively.
Apostol said his office could conduct only an administrative investigation of the government officials and employees. The criminal aspect, however, would be pursued, said Apostol.
Apostol said his office would use the COA report in the investigation.
“Let’s start looking into where the money came from,” said Apostol.
The SC referred the case of the four hospital officials to the Ombudsman for further investigation.
In a statement, VSMMC said the irregularity was apparently perpetrated by individuals who took advantage of deficiencies in systems against the misuse of funds that are in place in the hospital’s financial system.
Since then, VSMMC added that the hospital has implemented more stringent measures, like the use of bar codes on medicines and supplies, and the computerization of pharmacy transactions.
Councilor Cuenco said the medical program of his father started in 2001 and normally allotted P5 million per transaction to VSMMC. He said the money never passed through his father but is released directly by the Department of Budget and Management to VSMMC.
The program worked like this:
A poor patient, most probably a voter or someone belonging to a family of voters, from the Cuencos’ district in Cebu pleads for help from the congressman.
The congressman endorses the patient’s plea to VSMMC.
The endorsement is evaluated by a social worker.
The needed medicines are taken from the VSMMC pharmacy.
The younger Cuenco said the program stopped in 2004 when a report indicated discrepancies. He said his father, the former congressman, had sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the anomaly.