Ona’s allies ‘demoted’

Garin denies shakeup, says only streamlining

FOUR of Health Secretary Enrique Ona’s closest allies were stripped of their positions and returned to their original assignments in what is seen as a shakeup at the department after Ona went on what insiders said was a forced leave.

Stripped of their posts were Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, and Assistant Secretaries Eric Tayag, Roland Cortez and Jimmy Lagahid.

In a text message, Herbosa denied reports that he had quit.

“I did not resign. I was asked to report back to UP on Monday,” said Herbosa, a trauma surgeon.

Herbosa noted the order was issued by acting Secretary Janette Garin, who was also an undersecretary before Ona was directed to go on leave, apparently to prepare answers to a number of questions that President Benigno Aquino III had about the department’s immunization program.

In a text message, Herbosa thanked his staff and reminded them to “live, pray and be happy” and that God always repays good work.

In an ambush interview, Garin told reporters that the contract of Herbosa, who had been seconded from the UP Philippine General Hospital, would expire Monday and that he would be sent back to his mother unit.

Herbosa was working at the PGH when Ona “borrowed” him to help him at the Health Department.

As undersecretary, Herbosa was also head of the DOH’s public-private partnership programs that included the Philippine Orthopedic Center. He also served as regional director of the National Capital Region.

Garin said Herbosa had been “helping the department a lot.”

Tayag and Cortez will retain their positions as head of the Health Department’s Epidemiology Center and director of the East Avenue Medical Center, respectively, while Lagahid, who served as Ona’s executive assistant, has gone on leave.

Garin said there was no shakeup at the department and that Ona’s people had not been demoted.

She said she and Ona had looked at the department and saw there were many people who had been given jobs and responsibilities that they cannot perform unless they are at the assistant secretary level.

“We are looking at this as a challenge so the whole DOH family will come together, united as a family,” she said.

The movement of personnel comes amid controversies hounding the department, with the announcement of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Ona, Tayag and Garin were the subjects of two separate investigations by the National Bureau of Investigation.

De Lima said Ona and Tayag are being investigated over the procurement of P833.6 million worth of pneumonia vaccines in 2012.

The department allegedly bought pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 10 in 2012, contrary to the recommendations that PCV13 is more suitable and cost-effective.

Before going on leave, Ona ordered an independent review of the issue.

Garin said Ona gave clear and direct instructions to create a committee to collate all the documents and come up with the exact chronology of events on the vaccines procurement. She said the review committee would coordinate and cooperate fully with the NBI.

On the other hand, Garin, who was a congresswoman, is being investigated in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Garin denied allegations that she took campaign money from pork barrel funds and said she would step down if the allegations against her were proved true.

Whistleblowers Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Cacal of the now defunct National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) said P300 million of pork barrel funds went to the 2007 election campaign kitties of Garin, then a congresswoman and nine other lawmakers.

According to Mendoza, she personally delivered P1 million to Garin, a charge that she has denied.

De Lima on Thursday said the investigation into anomalies involving Nabcor was being hindred by a lack of documentation.

“The latest update I got from the NBI was there was no movement in their investigation since they still needed to gather more documents that will corroborate the testimonies of Mendoza and Cacal,” De Lima said.

De Lima also confirmed that among those who were being investigated by the NBI in connection with the Nabcor controversy were some members of the Liberal Party, including Garin, who was a representative for Iloilo.

Garin, together with former Lanao del Sur Rep. Faysah Dumarpa and former Batanes Gov. Vicente Gato, allegedly received P1 million each during the 2007 elections.

Mendoza, who was Nabcor vice president for administration and finance, claimed that she personally delivered the money to Garin and nine other politicians. Her claim was corroborated by another whistleblower, Cacal, who was general services supervisor.

De Lima said the Nabcor case has been referred to the NBI Special Task Force, which is the same unit that handled the P10 billion pork barrel case involving businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and Senators Ramon Revilla, Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada.

In her affidavit, Mendoza claimed that then Nabcor president Alan Javellana asked her to use P300 million of the agency’s special public fund for the personal expenses of some politicians in the 2007 midterm elections.

She said they made it appear that P105 million was set aside for the technical studies related to the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program, but the money actually went to the campaign kitties of politicians who ran for re-election in 2007.

Mendoza also alleged that Javellana told her to take P50 million from the GMA program for former Agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, who ran for Bohol congressman.

Former Palawan Rep. Baham Mitra, Bulacan Rep. Lorna Silverio and Davao Oriental Rep. and now Gov. Corazon Malanyaon each got P2 million, while Garin, former Lanao del Sur Rep. Faysah Dumarpa and former Batanes Gov. Vicente Gato received P1 million each.

On Wednesday, Garin challenged her detractors to present evidence linking her to an alleged anomaly involving P5 billion in funds from Nabcor.

She denied receiving even a single centavo from Nabcor.

“If and when I am appointed as Secretary (of Health), but the Justice Department finds out that there are basis for these corruption allegations, no matter how minute, I will immediately resign from the post,” Garin vowed.

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