Heidi Mendoza rallies Filipinos to fight corruption

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Feb 10 2011 09:11 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2011 05:27 AM

MANILA, Philippines - "I am an investigator from day 1," former Commission on Audit (COA) auditor Heidi Mendoza proudly declared as she took the questions on her first live studio interview on ANC's "The Rundown."

Mendoza spoke of the challenge she was up against: a culture of corruption.

"Before the 7-point agenda of the current Chairman, we were into post-audit, which means the transaction has already been paid, and ang hirap talaga humanap ng ebidensya dahil pag may corruption, kung sino masaya hindi magsasalita, and they make it a point na lahat happy. So unless na may evidence na makikita, mahirap mag-file [ng kaso]."

Mendoza laments how a lukewarm citizenry and the exceedingly slow justice system in the country seemed to have contributed to the prevailing culture of corruption.

She cites a case she filed in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the 1990s.

"I was pregnant when I did the audit and the case was handed down when my daughter was 15 years old," she says.

But contrary to claims by state prosecutors she never voiced her opposition to the plea bargain deal with former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Comptroller Carlos Garcia, Mendoza says, she had opted to keep her peace instead so as not to give her thoughts away.

Mendoza recalls she had gone to the office of the state prosecutor in the Sandiganbayan to get some documents for her husband, and was stunned when Special Prosecutor Atty. Jose Balmeo Jr. showed her a document on the plea bargain deal.

She says the circumstances surrounding that conversation was also far from what prosecutors had called a consultation.

"I tried to control my emotions," Mendoza said. "I was shocked especially when he said we will be happy and I will be jumping for joy. This was contrary to our joke that we would be running naked from the Sandiganbayan to Welcome Rotonda. It was something that I didn't expect so how was I supposed to react to such a strange situation, in a foreign environment."

"My initial reaction was: does my opinion matter? I did not show my resistance. Frankly, if I showed some resistance, would my opinion matter?"

She admits saying that, if a plea bargain was what it would take to resolve the matter, they should find ways to explain it. But on hindsight, Mendoza says, the state prosecutors should've been more circumspect.

Pure intentions

Amid criticism from the COA over her exposé on supposedly anomalous transactions in the military, Mendoza defends her decision to come out with what she knew and the pureness of her intentions.

Mendoza says she couldn't possibly be telling lies at the risk of exposing her three children, losing her job, giving up her private life.

"The moment I filed my resignation, I was literally crying and I took the first plane out of the country and everyone was saying if I had a choice I would not have done so. It was sheer frustration after all the effort we put in only to realize we were on a dead end."

"What hurt most was during that hearing, I was confronted with an evidence used by the defense lawyer who presented a letter signed by the [COA] chairman showing there was no audit conducted, that there was no report. I was there, I was already retired and everybody in COA knows that when you are retired, you're not obliged to appear in hearings anymore."

Mendoza admits her biggest frustration was when Marcelo resigned as Ombudsman, and left without room for the boxes of evidence she had collected in the course of her investigation, as the room she was occupying was going to be converted into a library.

"I gave the statement that COA abandoned me, within the confines of the court. In 2007 to 2009, I was no longer a COA auditor, I was no longer a government employee but I religiously attended the hearing."

"I didn't talk to media...it was a quiet hearing. It's not something like they portray like I come out in the media saying I was abandoned by COA."

In congressional hearings, Mendoza points outs she always insisted that not everyone in government is corrupt.

"I am sure that only a very, very small portion are not honest in the disposition of their tasks, only a small portion of the Commission on Audit."

Overwhelming support

Following her exposés on corruption in the military, Mendoza admits she is overwhelmed by the amount of support she's getting these days.

Mendoza says supporters, even from COA, have been tipping her off on plans and developments even before officials could air their side.

With the high expectations she has raised, Mendoza says taking it easy is far from her options.

"These days, when I need to rest or reflect, I don't have the time because there are a lot of requests for interviews, talks, speeches for graduation," Mendoza says with an amused laugh.

PNoy offers PSG

Mendoza reveals that no less that the President had extended his support during a private meeting with President Aquino in Malacañang.

Mendoza says she had confessed to the President that after everything that she went through, she no longer felt like going back to public service. But guilt kicked in after the President encouraged her to reconsider.

He suggested that she read the book on the Aquino sisters, everyone of whom had expressed reservations about his bid for the Presidency, and how when the time came there was a need for it, the interest of the public good would rule above all.

"I can see myself surrounded by my brothers and sisters who are all coming up with suggestions, saying 'I have had enough, I don't think you should go back.' But at the end of the day, if you feel like there's this passion and there's still stamina, you just lighted the fire, rekindled the hope, then just like what the President said, there might be a need to come back. I go with the public pulse, I never refuse the public service that is expected of me."

Mendoza adds the President also gave her an offer she couldn't refuse: security from the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

"The President expressed support, he was a bit concerned, he wanted me to be guarded by his own Presidential Security Guards. And I wanted to joke and ask: are they handsome?"

"My husband said, 'No, Mr. President it's enough, we are safe.' But the President said, 'No, you're used to sending your guards home, so maybe I should give you some PSG so you can't tell them to go home, they will be responsible for you. I said, 'OK, and my husband said, 'We don't have a choice, I think it's something we have to accept'."

Newfound faith

Resigning from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was also a decision she said she had to make in the interest of pursuing truth and justice. As an ADB employee, she could not take part in any political process or investigation.

"We have a sincere President pero ang dami ng cases na nadismiss, ang daming performance ng key government institutions na kinuquestion so parang tingin ko, wala nang panggagalingan yung pag-asa sa puso ng mamamayan. So there was a need to resign. I cannot stay in ADB because I cannot talk."

But today, armed with a newfound faith in government, Mendoza is confident something will come out of the investigations.

"I am confident something is going to happen. I will not be hiding. Hope is alive. There is a moving hand, a hand greater than all of us."

She also calls on Filipinos to do their part in ridding the country of the scourge of corruption by volunteering information.

"I think it's high time we learn to accept the fact that fighting corruption is not just the sole responsibility of government agencies. Katungkulan ng bawat mabuting mamamayan na labanan ang korupsyon."