Ombudsman suspends DOH, BI officials
Ordered suspended without pay for six months were Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo, Administration and Financial Management Assistant Secretary Maylene Beltran, Administration and Financial Management Undersecretary Roger Tong-An, Administrative Services Director Laureano Cruz and Policy and Personnel Services Director Esperanza Carating.
STAR/File
Ombudsman suspends DOH, BI officials
Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Five Department of Health (DOH) officials allegedly responsible for the delay in releasing the benefits of health workers in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic were suspended yesterday by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Ordered suspended without pay for six months were Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo, Administration and Financial Management Assistant Secretary Maylene Beltran, Administration and Financial Management Undersecretary Roger Tong-An, Administrative Services Director Laureano Cruz and Policy and Personnel Services Director Esperanza Carating.

“Charges against them for gross neglect of duty and inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties may warrant their removal from service; their continued stay in office may prejudice the investigation of the case filed against them,” read the order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

It was last June when the ombudsman ordered a probe into “irregularities and anomalies” at the DOH in responding to the health crisis.

Among the issues raised were the delayed procurement of personal protective equipment of medical workers, lapses that led to the death of medical fronliners and the inaction on the release of benefits and financial assistance to affected health workers.

44 in ‘pastillas’ scheme suspended

Meanwhile, a total of 44 Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials and personnel facing complaints over the so-called “pastillas scheme” were ordered suspended for six months by the Ombudsman.

Yesterday, Martires said Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente was already provided with a copy for its implementation.

Placed under preventive suspension without pay for six months were BI Port Operations Division acting chief Grifton Medina, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 traffic control and enforcement unit deputy head Dean Albao, senior immigration officer ER German Robin, and NAIA immigration supervisor Abdulhafez Hadjibasher.

Covered by the same order were BI officers Gabriel Estacio, Ralph Garcia, Phol Villanueva, Abdul Calaca, Danilo Deudor, Mark Macababad, Aurelio Lucero III, George Bituin, Salahudin Hadjinoor, Chevy Chase Naniong, Jeffrey Dale Ignacio, Hamza Pacasum, Manuel Sarmiento and Cherry Pie Ricolcol.

It also included Erwin Ortañez, Glenn Comia, Benlando Guevarra, Danieve Binsol, Arlan Edward Mendoza, Anthony Lopez, Cecille Jonathan Orozco, Dennis Robles, Bradford Allen So, Vincent Bryan Allas, Rodolfo Magbuhos Jr., Carl Jordan Perez, Juan Carlo Gomez, Clint John Simene, Jhayson Albelda, Asliyah Maruhom, Jan Christian De Villa, Jessica Anne Salvador, Jennifer Timbreza, Robern Michael Sarmiento, Maria Victoria Jogno, Catherine Mendoza, Lorenz Arlei Bontia, Paul Borja, Dimple Mahyumi Mallari and security guard Fidel Mendoza.

Martires said he had requested the BI to submit to his office proof of compliance with the order.

Earlier, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed graft charges against the BI officials and personnel for alleged involvement in the pastillas scheme which allowed the unchecked entry of foreigners, mostly Chinese, into the country in exchange for bribes.

The NBI filed the complaint before the ombudsman to have the BI officials preventively suspended while under investigation.

In its complaint, the NBI cited how BI personnel allegedly accepted money to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals “without passing through the normal immigration process and screening.”

It said Medina was implicated for reportedly allowing the scheme to flourish under his watch. It said Medina designated Mendoza, a security guard, as his chief of staff, who the Senate investigated for allegedly having millions in net worth.

In the complaint, the NBI said whistle-blower BI officer Allison Chiong provided evidence that the trafficking of persons through the so-called backdoor entrance and exit at the airports happened “through the frontline manned by corrupt immigration officials.”

The NBI said it found “meritorious” Chiong’s allegations that money passed hands from the “Chinese suppliers” to the BI officers in exchange for the entry of foreigners into the country from 2017 to 2020.

“The pastillas scheme allowed the unchecked entry of foreigners, mostly Chinese POGO workers, into the country even though they did not merit admission – all for monetary considerations,” the NBI said.

Probers obtained copies of conversations in three Viber groups in which the respondents discussed their share in the money wrapped in brown envelopes thus, the coining of the term “pastillas scheme.”

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