Duterte fires military hospital chief for corruption

Edith Regalado - The Philippine Star
Duterte fires military hospital chief for corruption
Duterte fired Brig. Gen. Edwin Leo Torrelavega, chief of V. Luna, and Col. Antonio Punzalan, who heads the logistics office of the hospital.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday fired the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center, more popularly known by its old name V. Luna General Hospital, the head of its logistics office and 20 others reportedly for massive corruption involving millions.  

Duterte fired Brig. Gen. Edwin Leo Torrelavega, chief of V. Luna, and Col. Antonio Punzalan, who heads the logistics office of the hospital.

“I could not take those who are into corruption, but this one is different and it really makes me very mad because this Torrelavega was getting from the medicine and hospital equipment that were supposed to be for the soldiers,” the President was quoted as telling the government officials inducted into office yesterday afternoon at Malacañang.

The President’s anger toward Torrelavega and Punzalan led him to spew profanities and cuss words against them.

As a result, Duterte did not allow any live coverage of two events, including the oath-taking and the send-off ceremonies for the athletes to the Asian Games in Indonesia.  

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte has ordered not only the relief of Torrelavega and Punzalan but also the conduct of court-martial proceedings against them and 20 others.

“Based on the reports, several high-ranking officials and employees of V. Luna, Health Service Command of the AFP undertook anomalous purchases of equipment and engaged in fraudulent transactions, including ghost-purchasing, splitting of contracts to circumvent mandatory bidding processes and conceiving fictitious suppliers,” Roque said at a press briefing. 

“Based on my conversation with the (AFP) chief of staff, he said he already has a memorandum relieving the officers of the military behind these anomalies in V. Luna. That should be effective upon receipt of the officers,” he added. 

Roque said Duterte was “aggravated” and went “ballistic” when he heard about the alleged irregularities in the military hospital. 

“(The President was) personally aggravated and angered. He’s ballistic… to find out that bulk of the funds, or much of the funds, may be going to pockets of corrupt officials of the (AFP),” the presidential spokesman said. 

Roque said one of the anomalies uncovered was the “ghost” delivery of P1.49 million worth of supplies. He said a whistle-blower reported the anomaly, prompting authorities to conduct an investigation.

The President ordered the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and AFP chief Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. to look into the report. 

“It definitely includes other cases. That’s what angers the President. This is not an isolated transaction. It involves quite a number of anomalous transactions,” Roque said. 

Roque said the military would release a more comprehensive report about the irregularities at the AFP Medical Center. 

“There are a series of transactions involving almost hundreds of millions of pesos. So they will be releasing subsequent reports in due course,” he added. 

Roque said the dismissed officials would have to be replaced to prevent disrupting the operations of the military hospital. 

Asked if the assistance promised by Duterte reached AFP Medical Center, Roque replied, “I think because of the pervasive fraud in the procurement process, perhaps it reached (the hospital) but there was definitely overpricing and other kinds of fraud committed.”

Malacañang announced the dismissal of AFP Medical Center officials a week after Duterte fired the entire board and management of Nayong Pilipino Foundation over what he described as a “flawed” lease contract with casino investor Landing International Development Ltd. 

Duterte wanted to announce the firing of Torrelavega and Punzalan as well as the 20 others as early as last weekend.

“The President was seething with anger as to what happened with the V. Luna officials,” a source told The STAR. 

Court martial

Galvez yesterday confirmed the conduct of court-martial proceedings against the AFP Health Service Command (AFPHSC) officials. 

Galvez, at a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, said the case against the AFPHSC officials would be tried under the military justice system through court-martial proceedings where they will be given the opportunity to be heard. 

He noted that such process would give an accused the chance to have his side heard and at the same time prosecute those who are guilty. 

“They will be charged with violation of the Article of War 95, which is fraud against the government. That is, however, without prejudice to other infractions of the Articles of War that may have also been violated during the course of our investigation,” he said. 

Galvez added that like the commander-in-chief and President, he is both saddened and offended by the reported anomalous transactions, considering how the government has given much attention to the military service.

“But I commit to the members of the (AFP), to the Filipino, to our beloved President and commander-in-chief that I will render justice to all concerned without undue haste,” he said.

Duterte ordered the release of P500 million for the improvement of equipment and facilities last Aug. 2, 2016, or barely a month after he assumed office. 

He also ordered an additional P50 million a month as financial assistance for the hospital. 

Part of Duterte’s speech during his visit to V. Luna two years ago read: “But at the same time, I’d like to share your – whatever happiness that you have here. We’re here to thank Secretary Benjamin Diokno for all the equipment that you need.”

Duterte added that an old building would be retrofitted.

“I’m sure, by the years that have passed by, it has – that building has seen a lot of waste around, so we have to condemn it first, refit then – but I’ll give you a new building also,” he said.

As this developed, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said officials would be held liable if they are found guilty of misdeeds.

“The DND (Department of National Defense) fully supports the anti-corruption measures set by the President and his campaign to rid government of erring officials,” he said. “It is unfortunate that this happened at a time when the DND and AFP enjoy the trust and confidence of the Filipino people. 

“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 added. – With Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan

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