(The Commission on Audit auditor who testified in the plunder case against former military comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia has broken her silence regarding her testimony in the Sandiganbayan, on the heels of the assertion by the special prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman that there was not enough evidence to convict Garcia of plunder. Heidi Mendoza, one of the main witnesses in the case, resigned from the Commission on Audit in 2006 after she was instructed to drop her investigation into the alleged anomalies involving AFP funds. Mendoza sat down with ABS-CBN's Ces Oreña Drilon for an exclusive interview. -- Eds.)
MANILA, Philippines - Heidi Mendoza thought she could just go on with her life and forget her court testimony before the Sandiganbayan. After all, she had landed a well-paying job in a regional financial institution. But like so many times in her life, Mendoza could not just sit back and be silent.
As she did in 2006, Mendoza recently resigned from her job so she could speak her mind. A 20-year veteran of the Commission on Audit (COA), Mendoza said her job to look into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) fund mess began when Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo made a personal request to then COA Chairman Guillermo Carague for her to lead the team that will assist his office in the investigation of General Garcia.
”The office order was issued sometime October 2004, if I am not mistaken," said Mendoza. "It was a large team. Basically, it started with several representatives from the government audit office and some persons who might personally help me.”
But as the investigation progressed, Mendoza smelled something amiss. “Later, during the engagement, I just sensed that there were people who were unjust and tried to scale down the number of people in my team, and some had to return to the Commission on Audit for their other responsibilities.”
When Mendoza testified for a period of 2 years, from 2007 to 2009, she was no longer a government employee. She said she resigned in 2006 "primarily out of my frustration on the lack of support extended to me."
In addition, she revealed that senior management of COA "blatantly refused" her request that she continue the investigation even if she had more case leads and there were "significant transactions that need[ed] further examination."
She also received a phone call from a high ranking government official who instructed her to drop her investigative work.
All these happened after Marcelo had already resigned as Ombudsman (in 2005) allegedly due to health reasons.
Suspicious transfer of funds
In Mendoza’s court testimony, she revealed that she unearthed a suspicious transfer of funds from the AFP’s Land Bank account to a private bank. The payee was the AFP Inter-Agency Trust Fund. The transaction involving P200 million was made on November 28, 2002.
In the private bank, it was made to appear that the amount was deposited in only one account. However, the account had two passbooks, one which showed a deposit of P100 million, and the other, P50 million.
Mendoza testified how she discovered the other bank book showing P50 million, but it seemed falsified as the deposit entry was not machine validated, as the usual practice, but was typewritten. There was also no record of the deposit when she had checked the private bank’s branch.
Also, Mendoza testified how the inter-agency account in the private bank was not booked, thus, the transfer of cash was not reflected in the AFP’s books of accounts.
Asked if she believed the prosecution had the evidence to convict Garcia, Mendoza said: “Well, I have to qualify this. I’m not a lawyer, I’m a public accountant by profession, but I have a solid 20 years of service from the Commission on Audit. In my experience, I have always been successful in all the cases that I filed in the Sandiganbayan, one of which has already been affirmed in the Supreme Court. I also did a lot of trainings in financial and fraud investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman, including the Office of the Special Prosecutor. So, I think when I say I have gathered the evidence, I am confident that, yes, we have the evidence. But with the appreciation of the evidence, of course, I have to leave it to the respective courts.”
Return of documents
Mendoza also disclosed that after Marcelo left government service, she was asked to return case documents to the offices she took them from.
"And I felt like, you know, it's not that simple," she said. "I led my team, who are all dedicated and committed, I made them believe that we are serious about this task. It is not only a simple data gathering, wherein you just get the report from one table and you get into another file and get some [more]."
Mendoza said it's difficult for her to hear prosecutors now say they do not have enough evidence to convict Garcia. She insisted that the evidence is already with the government.
"We used lots and lots of time, private time, thinking of ways and means of how to get a certain file and how to gather the evidence, and so it is painful for me if people will be saying that we don’t have the evidence. If I may qualify: from the point of view of an auditor I believe we have the evidence," she said.
Lack of public interest in case
Mendoza also decried how the public, and even the media, lost interest in the Garcia case.
"This is something that I would try to tell the public. During those times, not one of the media was there, not one of the so-called concerned citizens can be found, not one anti-corruption civil society was there to monitor the case. It was the defendant, the prosecution, the lawyers of the government, my husband and me. So, no media, no civil society."
In the latter part of the trial, she said she got support from the clergy. "Some representatives from the church went there to support me, and that was one of the most difficult parts of my testimony, because in that particular session, the defense lawyer showed a letter from the Commission on Audit, denying the creation of the [audit probe] team, and it was very frustrating on my part."
Mendoza said she testified against Garcia "because I am a state auditor, and it is my duty to tell to the public what we have reviewed what we have discovered. It is my responsibility for every Filipino and it is my responsibility to my country."
Not all state workers are corrupt
On the assertion by prosecutors that the AFP funds in question were intact, Mendoza said that while prosecutors said the funds have been accounted, "they did not say that no funds are missing."
This does not mean that graft did not take place, she stressed.
"They said that funds have been accounted for, it is just due to late recording. Come on! Everyone who practices accounting knows that --and I can testify on this--if there's a late recording, it's basically a condition that bridges opportunity for misappropriation. This is what exactly I’m saying. In court, I’m saying that there were lots of resources available in the hands of a few powerful people in control of the entire cycle of transaction," she explained.
"There is so much delay. I’m not talking of 1 month or 6 months, we’re talking here of 2 years. You’re doing a bank reconciliation after 2 years! This means you are also opening the books to misappropriation, it is subject to fraud.“
Mendoza said she is breaking her silence to disabuse the perception of the public that government is riddled with corrupt workers.
”I tried to be honest in living my faith and living up to my responsibilities to my country. Kung sinasabi nilang this is for the government, I leave it to their conscience. As I have said, the evidence is best appreciated by those people who trust you. Unfortunately, I am just an auditor, and I am not one of them who belongs with the prosecution, but I did my best to build up the case. If there are problems with the appreciation [of evidence], I leave it to their conscience," she said.
"I risked my life, my entire family and my career simply because, I would like to tell my fellow Filipino and to all others here and abroad, hindi lahat ng tao sa gobyerno magnanakaw, hindi lahat ng Pilipino ay natatakot manindigan laban sa korupsyon," she added.