Commission on Audit (CoA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza’s ace in grabbing a pivotal seat at the agency was the report on Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller, Maj. General Carlos Garcia.
State prosecutors handling the case, however, supported the general’s plea to a lesser offense, instead of the non-bailable charge of plunder.
Garcia was accused of pilfering more than P300 million in military funds and had at that time negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors.
The plea bargain extinguished his plunder and money laundering cases, and required him to plead guilty to lighter offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering, in exchange for turning over to the state P135 million of his family’s assets.
Mendoza knew an opportunity when it presents itself and raved in public about her utter dismay of the government lawyers and threatened she would walk naked from the Sandiganbayan to Welcome Rotonda, together with a special prosecutor from the Office of the Ombudsman, Joseph Capistrano, if a plunder complaint is not filed against Garcia.
Overnight, she became the subject of television, radio and print news, while also turning into the darling of yellow followers and trolls on Facebook and Twitter.
To generate public support and sympathy, Mendoza spoke in the common dialect:
“Mayroon po kaming pustahan, mayroon po kaming sumpaan na kapag nadismis ang Garcia case, maglalakad po kami ng hubo’t hubad mula sa Sandiganbayan hanggang sa Welcome Rotonda (We have a bet. We made a promise that if the Garcia case is dismissed, we will walk naked from the Sandiganbayan to Welcome Rotonda).”
Mendoza expressed her belief that her evidence against Garcia was solid.
Retired State Auditor V Art Besana, who is a veteran at CoA, said to get specific individuals to express support for the appointment of Mendoza to the position of commissioner, the late President Benigno Aquino III exhorted civil society groups to throw their backing and rally behind her appointment.
On 5 April 2011, Aquino pushed through with the appointment of then Undersecretary of Finance Grace Pulido-Tan as chairperson of CoA and CoA State Auditor V Mendoza as commissioner.
On 26 April 2011, Aquino sent a letter to Ma. Remedios Baby Bueno Coady, chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee of the Women’s Rights Movement of the Philippines (WRMP), thanking her for supporting Mendoza as among individuals “who steadily helped the administration regain the nation’s footing on the straight and righteous path.”
“Newly-appointed commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Philippines, US Government Accountability Office (GAO) counterpart in the Philippines, told the story of her lone fight against corruption in the Philippine Army at GAO 29 April,” read the announcement of her coming to Washington DC to speak in a program, which took place before a large audience in the States briefing room and was broadcast via GAOTV.
Joining her in the panel was former journalist Sheila Coronel, Columbia University professor on investigative journalism, and Rick Messick, a senior operations officer of the World Bank Department of Institutional Integrity.
In Mendoza’s agenda was the Citizens Participatory Audit (CPA). She announced on 29 April 2011 before a World Bank forum that “the Commission on Audit has put in place a mechanism to examine the pork barrel of Congress to bring transparency to a process that has been mired in corruption almost from its inception.”
Immediately, the duo initiated the pork barrel review Aquino wanted to be the crowning glory of his administration’s Straight Path campaign.
Under Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the unnumbered CoA Memorandum Circular dated 10 May 2013, issued by Pulido-Tan, Mendoza was referred to as the person that had been in charge of the audit of Priority Development Assistance Fund since 2011.
On 17 June 2011, Pulido-Tan issued Office Order 2011-428 with changes in team membership and audit objectives in the continuing audit of the pork barrel that started in 13 May 2010 under a previous Commission proper.
The audit of the pork barrel of Congress was from 2007 to 2009. It took three years and four months to finish. The release of the report thereon on 16 August 2013 resulted in a reaction from the public, which was the same outrage sought from the DoH audit report released last August by the resident audit team of CoA in the Department of Health.
(To be continued)