MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 December)—Four of the nine officials charged in connection with the Bukidnon hospital controversy have been issued 60-day suspension orders, a copy of the memorandum, issued by Governor Alex Calingasan on December 10 and was sent via registered mail, showed.
Suspended for two months were Marie Carmen Unabia, provincial economic enterprise management officer; Corazon Jamero, hospital administrator of the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center (BPMC); Dr. Janet Mercadera, hospital administrator of Bukidnon Provincial Hospital (BPH)-Maramag; and Elvira Roa, supervising administrative officer of BPH-Kibawe.
Calingasan cited that the preliminary investigation report presented to the discipline committee by the special investigating committee “has uncovered in the course of its fact finding investigation several unauthorized transactions involving the use of hospital petty cash funds.”
The governor issued the suspension order 40 days after he charged the nine officials of serious dishonesty in the course of official duties on October 31, in what senior capitol officials described as “one of the biggest controversies so far” in the history of the provincial government.
Vice Governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr, who initiated the investigation amid reports of lack of medicines and medical supplies in provincial hospitals, told a press conference on November 7 that about P16 million worth of medicines and supplies were allegedly purchased using unauthorized petty cash funds, and P27.5 million worth of medicines and supplies were also allegedly bought with questionable bidding procedures.
He vowed to get to the bottom of the issue but assured the accused due process in the administrative proceedings.
Calingasan said the initial findings showed that the “nature and the gravity of the offense constituted grave dishonesty and misconduct due to conspiracy to violate the procurement system,” through “petty cash into credit system,” “unauthorized,” “overpricing,” “falsification” and other violations in the procurement process.
“This reinforces the previous findings of the offense of serious dishonesty in the conduct of official duty as contained in the report of the fact finding committee created upon the recommendation of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan,” Calingasan said separately in memorandums 1276, 1277, 1280, and 1281.
The governor clarified that a preventive suspension is not a penalty but “merely as a measure of precaution so that the official or employee charged may be removed from the scene” as the investigation proceeds.
“This preventive suspension is rendered to attain the objective of the investigation and based on the finding of the special investigating committee,” he added.
Calingasan explained that the presence of those charged in their present work “would preclude the possibilities of further exerting undue influence or pressure on the witnesses or tampering of documentary evidence or file of your office.”
In ordering the preventive suspension, Calingasan cited section 85 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 and Rule 7, Section 25 on the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.
Provo Antipasado, provincial administrator and head of the provincial discipline committee, which is bound to hear the case, clarified to MindaNews that the special investigating team has not yet completed their probe.
“They [have] 60 days to complete their investigation,” he added.
A preliminary investigation was set on December 19 or 20.
MindaNews learned from the Provincial Legal Office (PLO) that the respondents have already filed a response to the charge filed before them through their counsel, Cagayan de Oro-based lawyer Olegario C. Marbella Jr.
But the PLO refused to give the media a copy.
Antipasado said the gist of the respondents’ responses was that “they have never violated any procurement procedure.
In an earlier interview, Unabia, the provincial economic enterprise management officer, denied the charges.
“We did nothing wrong. We just loaned money because there was no money to buy medicines,” she added.
Unabia said she was employing a lawyer to defend herself in what she called a “trial by publicity.”
Antipasado said the five other officials charged in the issue are not yet “off the hook,” citing that the four were not suspended for penalty.
They were only prioritized because they have “big influence” in the workplace and that they were charged for “bigger accounts,” he said.
“If the findings warrant it, the other five could still be suspended,” Antipasado said in an interview Wednesday.
They are BPH-San Fernando administrative officer Daryl Minguez, BPH-Manolo Fortich administrator Judy Pancrudo, BPH – Talakag administrative officer Mario Cedeño, BPH-Kalilangan administrative officer Merlyn Calam, and BPH-Malitbog administrative officer Juanito Kilem.
After 60 days, the special investigation committee, which replaced the fact finding committee headed by provincial legal officer Jeoffrey Sayson, is expected to turn in its final report to the provincial discipline committee. That’s when the committee can convene for the administrative proceedings.
After hearing the case, they will then endorse their recommendation to the governor for decision.
Antipasado said with Sayson on leave, they have asked the provincial prosecutor to act as the trial officer to facilitate the hearings. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)