Charges to be filed vs. relieved top military officials over hospital corruption allegations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 13) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the relief of top military officials over alleged anomalous transactions in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) health units, his spokesperson said on Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte has ordered the relief and court marshal proceedings against 20 officials, based on the intelligence report submitted to him by the AFP.

Among those involved are the AFP Health Service Command (AFPHSC) Chief Brigadier General Edwin Leo Torrelavega; V. Luna Medical Center Commander Colonel Antonio Punzalan; and AFPHSC chiefs of the Management and Fiscal Office and the Logistics Office, among others.

"Several high-ranking officials and employees of the V. Luna Medical Center and Health Service Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines undertook anomalous purchases of equipment and engaged in fraudulent transactions," Roque said in a media briefing.

Anomalous transactions included ghost purchasing, splitting of contract to circumvent mandatory bidding processes, and conceiving fictitious suppliers, Roque said.

"Apparently it's a conspiracy. It was institutional corruption in V. Luna," he said.

Those involved in the corruption mess will be charged with fraud against the government, the AFP said.

Roque said a whistleblower exposed the corrupt acts, which led Duterte to order the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and the AFP to conduct an investigation.

'Systemic corruption'

AFP Chief-of-Staff General Carlito Galvez said five anomalous transactions worth P1.4 million was flagged for overpricing. He also alleged the presence of equipment and medicine suppliers cartel in V. Luna Medical Center.

He said the prosthesis for wounded Marawi soldiers were one of the projects victimized by the corruption in the military hospital.

"Nakita namin 'yung price ng (We saw the price of) prosthesis. There is an allegation that getting from Ottobock (prosthesis brand), it only costs P330,000. Ang price ng isang supplier ng (The price with a supplier) V. Luna is P1.4 million," he said in a separate media briefing.

He added some of the institutional suppliers are facing cases before the Ombudsman.

He said the Intelligence Service of AFP found that there was a "systemic corruption" in V. Luna hospital.

"Walang transparency, walang checks and balance (There's no transparency, and checks and balance). The Logistics and the Management and Fiscal Office, silang dalawa (those two) from the start up to the delivery," he said.

AFP is investigating 17 other transactions, possibly amounting to P17 million.

Meanwhile, Galvez said Torrelavega will be held liable because he should have been aware of the corrupt practices in the AFPHSC.

"He failed prevent corruption from being undertaken in the Health Services Command," he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured officials involved in the "highly-questionable transactions" of AFPHSC will be held accountable.

"We will ensure that those responsible will be held fully accountable for their actions. The investigations of the other individuals who might possibly be involved are still ongoing," he said in a statement.

Duterte irked

Upon finding out the alleged widespread corruption Duterte went "ballistic," Roque recalled. In December 2017, Duterte pledged P50 million a month to V. Luna hospital to help with its medical and management expenses.

"Only to find out that much of the funds may be going to pockets of corrupt officials of the AFP... He was personally aggravated when the information on corruption was confirmed in V. Luna," Roque said.

Just last week, Duterte sacked the entire board of Nayong Pilipino Foundation over a "flawed" lease deal, which was "grossly disadvantageous" to the government.