Mendoza: We’re being threatened, pressured
Video by INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
MANILA, Philippines–Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza on Thursday said she received threats during the trial of the corruption charges against former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay at the Sandiganbayan.
Mendoza showed senators highlights of a 2002 audit report of Makati’s purchase of medical supplies and equipment in 2000 and 2001 indicating an overprice of P61 million out of a total purchase price of P70 million.
As a result of her audit report, Mendoza is a government witness in some of the cases filed against the former mayor in the antigraft court.
Thirteen years later, Mendoza told the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee that she continued to be hounded by the audit report that her team had prepared.
At around 6 a.m. on Thursday, hours before testifying in the Senate, she said she got what may be said to be an intimidating call from someone, but refused to give specifics.
And while testifying on the cases against Binay at the Sandiganbayan, the commissioner confirmed she had two break-ins in her home early this year. She shared the information after Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV asked her about it.
During the break-ins, cabinets were ransacked and documents were strewn, but no valuables were lost. She said the timing of the break-ins was “suspicious” because these happened during the trial of the Binay case.
The intruders could be looking for something, possibly including an audit report on Makati that was missing, she said.
Dra. Binay’s tenure
“What we are being asked to do is not easy. I don’t want to do the things I’m doing. I hope the public understands what we’re doing,” she told the subcommittee that was inquiring into the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building.
“We’re being threatened. We’re being pressured. Who knows they may even file cases against us. I hope the public will see how difficult the life of an auditor is,” she added.
With her testimony, the inquiry shifted from the parking building to alleged anomalies during Dr. Elenita Binay’s watch as mayor.
Trillanes said Mendoza was invited as a resource person because Ernesto Aspillaga, former member of the city’s bidding awards committee, had testified that public bidding exercises during the rule of the Binays were only for show.
In her PowerPoint presentation, Mendoza cited several instances in which Makati awarded medical supply contracts to an apparent “exclusive distributor” to avoid any public bidding. The net effect was that the supplies were overpriced, she said.
She cited, for instance, the purchase of Autoclaves “heavy duty sterilizers” worth P1.465 million each, according to the purchase order, but cost P16,000 each in the market.
In another case, Makati ordered a fetal monitoring system worth P2.68 million, but actually cost P538,000.
In still another case, the city purchased a cryo surgical unit and volume metric pump worth P9.9 million, but only P150,000 worth of equipment was delivered, Mendoza said. “The rest is ghost delivery.”
The team’s other findings of overpricing, among others, were:
— Hospital cabinet at P17,850 each, but actually cost P2,258
— Hospital technical bed at P148,000, but cost P9,000
— ICU bed at P545,000 but cost P34,123.76
— Orthopedic beds at P480,000, but cost P24,087.26
— Ultrasound machine at P7.9 million, but cost P1.2 million
“With regards to the hospital beds, we were able to find the company, and even had our pictures taken. The next day, the company was shut down, and their website taken out,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the team evaluated procurement system, reviewed disbursement vouchers covering various hospitals and gathered purchase orders of other government hospitals to establish “price reference.”
In April 2002, Mendoza said the team conducted an exit conference with then Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado.
‘Deceived’ by Apollo
She said Mercado responded by saying that they had summoned the hospital director, only identified as Apollo, and threatened to sue him. She said Mercado claimed they had been “duped” by Apollo.
On Thursday, Mercado said he was not vice mayor when those anomalies took place, but confirmed he was vice mayor when the audit was conducted.
The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay dismissed as irrelevant Mendoza’s testimony.
Mendoza’s testimony was “filled with drama but devoid of relevance, said lawyer J.V. Bautista, interim secretary general of the United Nationalist Alliance party.
In a statement, Bautista also said Mendoza violated the sub judice rule and rights of Elenita Binay when she testified on a 2011 case, which is now in the courts.
He said Ms. Binay had appealed the Ombudsman’s refiling of the case in the Supreme Court. She was earlier cleared of the case but Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales refiled the case.
Bautista noted that the Sandiganbayan had cleared Dr. Binay in a similar case “after the court found that Mendoza had violated COA rules when she did not use similar items to prove her allegation of overpricing.”
“(She) also cannot deny that she has made statements against the Vice President and his family and thus cannot be a fair and impartial auditor of projects in Makati,” Bautista said.
He said Mendoza’s statements validate the Binay camp’s claim that the group of former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado was behind the alleged irregularities in the city.
Makati Administrator Eleno Mendoza said the presentation of the preliminary audit report submitted by the COA at the Senate hearing violated COA rules and was “patently unfair” to the city government.
“As a rule” COA audits are “confidential in nature because the office being audited has the right to reply and explain the findings,” the city administrator said.
According to him, under COA rules, the agency that is the subject of the audit is asked to submit these “replies and comments” on the preliminary audit findings to COA.
The COA then calls the subject to “an exit conference,” where the “findings and corresponding comments are discussed.”
“Only after such a conference does COA render a final report,” the city administrator said, as he added that “preliminary findings are not conclusive findings.”
According to Mendoza, the COA official “emphasized these” during the Senate subcommittee hearing “but was forced to read his report against his objection.”
He said this was “patently unfair to the city government.”–With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Kristine Felisse Mangunay