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NCMH official, 6 others face raps for killing hospital chief, driver

Police: Cortez murdered for linking some of the suspects to irregularities

PROBABLE MOTIVE National Center for Mental Health director Dr. Roland Cortez (right) filed a case for graft and corruption against chief administrative officer Clarita Avila in the Office of the Ombudsman in July 2019, accusing her of awarding several projects at the hospital to a company she supposedly incorporated. —EDWIN BACASMAS/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) chief administrative officer Clarita Avila and six other suspects have been charged with two counts of murder for the killing of NCMH director Dr. Roland Cortez and his driver on July 27.

Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) chief, said on Tuesday the charges had already been filed in the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.

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According to the investigation conducted by the QCPD, Avila may have plotted the killing with NCMH employees George Serrano and Harly Pagarigan and the other suspects identified as Sonny Sandicho, Roman Eugenio, Christina Riego and Edison Riego.

Gunman identified

Pagarigan was identified by the police as the one who shot Cortez and his driver, citing witness accounts.

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QCPD chief investigator Police Maj. Elmer Monsalve said that according to witnesses, Avila was seen talking to Sandicho, Serrano and Pagarigan at the hospital before the shooting. The other suspects may have helped hide the getaway vehicle or assisted in the coverup of the crime, according to the police.

The Inquirer tried but failed to contact Avila for comment.

Cortez, 61, and his driver Ernesto dela Cruz were shot dead by motorcycle-riding assailants on Tandang Sora Avenue in Quezon City around 7 a.m. on July 27.

The police said that according to a witness, one of the killers approached Cortez’s red Toyota Vios and knocked on one of the windows before shooting him and his driver.

The assailants then escaped on a motorcycle toward Commonwealth Avenue.

Monsalve said the motive was Dr. Cortez’s efforts to fight corruption within the hospital, which exposed the alleged involvement of several officials.

“Why were the NCMH employees involved? Because when Dr. Cortez implemented reforms in the NCMH, anomalies within the hospital were brought to light,” he added.

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Barely 2 years in office

Cortez was appointed as chief of the NCMH in October 2018, 10 months after the retirement of his predecessor.

In July 2019, he filed a case for graft and corruption against Avila in the Office of the Ombudsman based on findings of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Citing an NBI report, Cortez accused Avila of awarding the project to extend a pavilion at the hospital to Octant Builders—a contractor which she supposedly helped incorporate.

In February, the NBI charged Avila and 19 other officers and employees of the NCMH with graft in the Office of the Ombudsman over the anomalous purchase of a nonoperational computed tomography (CT) scan machine that cost over P30 million.

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TAGS:  Roland Cortez, Clarita Avila, slain NCMH director
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