Cuenco cleared in P3M pork conspiracy
FORMER Rep. Antonio Cuenco has been dropped from the Ombudsman’s investigation of a “conspiring” to misuse over P3 million from his pork barrel in “ghost purchases” of medicine for the poor in Cebu city’s south district.
Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the dismissal of the complaint against Cuenco in an order dated March 13.
She also authorized the Ombudsman in the Visayas to investigate the case, where auditors and the Supreme Court held liable four officials of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City.
The case under investigation also involves Cuenco’s son James who is a Cebu City councilor and two former personnel of the “Tony and Tommy” Office in an alleged conspiracy to release P3 million for anti-rabies serum based on forged prescriptions and papers.
The order was received this week by Visayas Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol in Cebu City.
“It’s a recommendation for us to take cognizance of the case. However, this time the investigation will exclude Cuenco,” Apostol told reporters.
Last February 27, the former congressman filed a motion for the dismissal of the complaints filed against him, banking on the results of a Commission on Audit (COA) inquiry which excluded him from liability in the irregularity involving use of his Priority Development Assistance Fund.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed against Cuenco by “a concerned employee” of the hospital.
Two of four VSMMC officials held liable for disbursing P3.38 million for anti-rabies serum using falsified prescriptions and documents have since retired. Two others still remain in the staff.
The anomaly took place in 2003 to 2004 after Cuenco’s office took over the screening of indigent Cebuano residents seeking medical assistance under the “Tony and Tommy” program during the term of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.
In 2002, Cuenco’s office took over the role of the VSMMC social worker in determining the patients qualified for medical fund assistance and established its own “screening office” in the Tony and Tommy Office (TNT).
According to investigators, the TNT was operated by Cuenco’s son James who was the congressman’s chief political affairs officer, Manuel “Bobby” Tipgos and Wendell Villacin who owns Dell Pharmacy from where the medicines were bought.
The hospital pharmacist was instructed by the congressman to draw medicine only from Sacred Heart Pharmacy or Dell Pharmacy in case drug supplies are not available at the government hospital.
The whistleblower in the case was James Yratoza, a former employee of the TNT Office. He said he used to prepare, process and facilitate referrals of unknown and ghost patients but no medicines were actually drawn from the pharmacy.
Eight doctors executed affidavits that their signatures were forged in drug prescriptions worth a total of P3.47 million.
The Ombudsman said that while Cuenco caused the transfer of the validation of the prescritpions from the VSMMC social worker to his TNT office in 2002, the alleged fraudulent use of the pork barrel was done during the period of Oct 13 2003 to 2004.
“Without any prescribed written guidelines for the utilizations of PDAF, there would be no basis in concluding that the act of then Congressman Cuenco in causing the transfer of the validation of the prescriptions from the VSMMC social worker to his TNT office is an overt act of conspiracy in the fraudulent utilitzaions of his PDAF released to the VSMMC,” the anti-graft investigator said.
With this, the Ombudsman dropped Cuenco’s name from the case.
The Supreme Court recently affirmed a COA ruling that held liable four hospital personnel liable for disbursing P3.38 milllion for anti-rabies medicine using falsified presciptions and documents.
They are retired VSMMC chief Filomena Delos Santos; former chief administrative office Josefa Bacaltos; chief of pharmacy Nelanie Antoni; and hospital accountant Maureen Bien.
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