Senator Santiago wants tighter security for Heidi Mendoza
MANILA, Philippines—Facing threats to her life, Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza should be accorded VIP protection by the national police, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said on Friday.
Santiago said she wrote Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to provide “heightened” VIP police protection for Mendoza.
“If we let this pass, no other significant witness will be willing to testify in any congressional hearing because of fear. Let’s put our boots on the ground and stomp out fear sown by hooligans,” she said in a statement.
At Thursday’s Senate hearing on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II, Mendoza said she had received threats and came under intense pressure during the trial of corruption charges against former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay.
Having led the team that audited medical supply purchases under Binay’s watch that showed an overprice of P61-million out of the P70-million total purchase price, Mendoza has testified at the case against the former mayor at the Sandiganbayan.
She told the senators that she got a call at 6 a.m. Thursday, hours before her testimony, and had experienced two break-ins in her home early this year.
“We’re being threatened. We’re being pressured. Who knows they may even file cases against us,” she said.
Santiago, a member of the blue ribbon committee, said she would also file a resolution seeking intensified security for Mendoza.
Her resolution would call for heightened 24-hour VIP police protection for Mendoza.
But the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay played down the testimony of Mendoza, accusing her of being part of a “demolition job.”
Juan Carlos Mendoza, a lawyer for Binay, said the commissioner misled the Senate and the public by presenting audit findings that had been discredited and thrown out by the Sandiganbayan in 2011.
“It was expected that as a high ranking public official, Ms Heidi Mendoza would have been candid enough to admit to the Senate that the audit report she was testifying on yesterday was already discredited by the Sandiganbayan,” lawyer Mendoza said in a statement issued on Friday.
Binay’s lawyer noted that the Second Division of the Sandiganbayan on April 7, 2011, found that the audit procedures adopted by the Commission on Audit (COA) under Commissioner Mendoza suffers “fundamental issues of arbitrariness.”
This was the reason the case against Binay and the other members of the bids and awards committee was dismissed by the antigraft court.
The resolution was also affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012, Binay’s lawyer said.
Mendoza became a witness in the cases filed against the wife of the Vice President in the Sandiganbayan.
Lawyer JV Bautista, interim secretary general of Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance, on the other hand, said the testimony of Mendoza was clearly part of the demolition job against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family.
“There was apparent malice on the part of Heidi Mendoza. She knew that the Sandiganbayan had already thrown out her supposed findings, yet she went ahead with her presentation,” he said.
“Malinaw na malinaw na kasabwat si Mendoza sa demolition job na ito dahil niloko niya ang taumbayan (It is crystal clear she is in cahoots with those doing the demolition job because she had fooled the public),” he said.
On the Ospital ng Makati findings, Binay’s lawyer said the allegations were already assessed by the Ombudsman during a preliminary investigation and Mrs. Binay was cleared of liability in 2011.
Ombudsman refiles case
However, the lawyer said the Ombudsman refiled the case in 2014, in violation of Mrs. Binay’s constitutional rights.
“The recent attempt to revive these cases is now the subject of a petition filed in the Supreme Court,” he said.
The camp of Binay plans to bring the matter of Mendoza’s “irregular conduct” before the the proper forum, lawyer Mendoza said.
Earlier, the city of Makati described as unfair and a violation of COA rules the directive of the subcommittee for COA to reveal their preliminary audit report on Makati City Hall Building II.
The city said that as a rule, COA audits are confidential because the office being audited has the right to reply and explain the findings and that preliminary findings are not conclusive.
Makati City officials also maintained that based on the preliminary report, there were mentions of alleged lapses in the procurement process but no overpricing.
Invoking the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, Santiago urged the blue ribbon committee and the subcommittee to recommend Mendoza’s admission into the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Santiago called on Senate President Franklin Drilon to approve the recommendation regarding Mendoza’s admission into the WPP.
The senator vowed to file two measures making the WPP more effective in safeguarding witnesses and whistle-blowers and protecting state auditors.
Santiago said the present WPP lacked an organic intelligence and security force. Its security force is composed of contractual personnel and sometimes augmented by Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation personnel.
Citing a United Nations report, she said the government’s failure concerning the WPP’s implementation was “the prime cause of the lack of witnesses and therefore convictions” in high-profile cases.
The senator also said a separate law was needed to protect state auditors who risk their lives investigating irregular government transactions involving powerful politicians.
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