The brave and courageous Heidi Mendoza

By Karen Galarpe, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 02/02/2011 3:54 PM | Updated as of 02/03/2011 9:40 AM

 

MANILA, Philippines – Her face is now splashed on news websites and newspapers, and mentioned in newscasts nationwide. Heidi Mendoza, former auditor of the Commission on Audit (COA), knew her days of living a quiet and anonymous life would come to an end as soon as she testified before the House of Representatives regarding anomalies in the military.

And so that quiet life did end yesterday as she spilled what she knew of anomalous transactions involving top generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Such a brave soul, this Heidi Mendoza is.

But who is she really?

On “The Rundown” last night on ANC, we were given a glimpse of this courageous woman.

A policeman’s daughter 

Mendoza is the daughter of a police officer, and is a reserve officer herself in the military with a rank of lieutenant colonel.

She finished her master’s degree in national security administration in 2003 at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP).

After graduating from the NDCP, she was asked by former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo to investigate anomalies in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

 
Heidi Mendoza (right) during her graduation at the National Defense College of the Philippines in 2003 with then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (middle).

 She worked with the COA for more than 20 years and became an expert in fraud investigations of government transactions.

One case she audited was that of Atty. Zacaria A. Candao, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who was found to have committed malversation of P21 million in government funds.

According to Mendoza, she was offered money and property just so she will drop the case. Mendoza stood her ground and refused the offer.

The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Candao in 2010.

Why Heidi Mendoza came out with all guns blazing

By Leila B. Salaverria, Delfin Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:36:00 02/03/2011

Filed Under: Accounting and Audits, Military, Graft & Corruption, Civil & Public Services

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MANILA, Philippines—Talk that she would be blamed for a weak plunder case against former military comptroller Carlos Garcia prompted former state auditor Heidi Mendoza to speak out against the prosecutors’ decision to enter into a plea bargain deal with the retired major general.

This was according to former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, one of those whom Mendoza had consulted before she surfaced to tell the country that there was evidence to pin down Garcia.

Her elder sister said Mendoza’s decision to expose corruption in the military was simply living up to the final words of their father.

“Before our father died, the last message that he left to us was: ‘Huwag kayong kakain ng anuman na galing sa nakaw. Magtiis sa kahirapan at magtiyaga kung anuman ang mayroon sa buhay. (Don’t eat anything that came from theft. Bear poverty and whatever you have),’” said Mendoza’s sister, Gigi de Castro.

“No coercion and any form of harassment can break her will and no material things can tempt her to back out,” De Castro said in a phone interview on Wednesday from the nearby city of Tayabas in Quezon province.

Their father, Agapito Lloce Sr., a retired policeman, died in 1983 from a heart ailment and diabetes.

Mendoza, who led a team that audited military transactions between 2004 and 2006, testified in the plunder case against Garcia. She detailed a transaction involving a P200-million check, of which P50 million was unaccounted for.

Prosecutors earlier said that Mendoza’s testimony had been debunked by military personnel, who testified that the Armed Forces had been able to reconcile the discrepancy that the auditor found.

It was Mendoza who made up her mind to come out in the open, but she was not alone when she made that difficult choice, Marcelo said.

Ateneo support group

Marcelo said Mendoza’s husband, a group of friends from Ateneo de Manila University that included Fr. Bert Alejo, and members of nongovernment organizations were with Mendoza when she was weighing the pros and cons of speaking publicly.

The meeting took place at the Ateneo School of Governance in Makati City last month.

Before the meeting, Marcelo said he had been regularly in touch with Mendoza. He said Mendoza had been giving him words of support because he was speaking out against the plea bargain deal and as a result became a target of criticism.

Scapegoat

Some time last month, Mendoza called Marcelo up to relay what she was told—that there was talk that she would be among those to be blamed for the weak evidence against Garcia.

Marcelo and former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio were the others who would be blamed for the weak case. “She told me, ‘what will happen? The public would not know the truth,’” Marcelo said.

Losing ADB job

Marcelo told Mendoza that she would have to decide for herself, since she could lose a very good job at the Asian Development Bank if she speaks up.

But Mendoza told Marcelo that she was having difficulty sleeping over the matter and then called for a meeting with friends.

At the meeting, the group talked about the risks of speaking out against the prosecutors’ stand that the case against Garcia was weak. The group also told her that coming out publicly was a decision that was hers to make alone.

Danger to family

One of the points raised at the meeting was that coming forward would have grave repercussions on Mendoza’s family.

Marcelo said he had pointed out that one of the witnesses in the plunder case against deposed President Joseph Estrada continued to have a guard even 10 years after the case. He said life for the witness was never the same even after the case was completed.

But Mendoza’s resolve to tell her story apparently outweighed the risks she could face. “She said, ‘If I don’t come out, it would be the same. I would never feel comfortable,”’ Marcelo narrated.

Talk with husband

Mendoza then took her husband aside and they talked. Afterward, she came up to the group and said she would speak up. She asked the group to help her with advice, with legal counsel and with security.

She also gave the go-signal for the airing of the first TV interview that she gave. She had agreed to the interview on the condition that it would not air until she says so.

Clan proud of Heidi

All of Lloce’s seven children—5 girls and 2 boys—hail from Tayabas at the foot of the mystical Mount Banahaw. Mendoza is the second to the youngest.

“Our father died with an unblemished record as a policeman. Heidi’s ongoing battle now against graft and corruption mirrors our father’s legacy. The whole clan is proud of her,” De Castro said.

Johnny Glorioso, dzMM news correspondent and long-time resident of Tayabas, remembered the elder Lloce as a member of the local police force.

“He is one fine example of an honest cop,” Glorioso said. “No wonder Heidi is now showing signs of the character of her late father.”

Lack of sleep

De Castro said she was able to talk with her younger sister on Tuesday evening.

“We all pity her. She’s now frail because of lack of sleep, tension and all,” she said, her voice trembling.

“She was very apologetic when she told me that all her family members should avoid making phone calls to her. That we should be contented with sending text messages but not so often. She’s really sorry that our lives will all be affected because of her current situation. But we all understand her,” De Castro added.

De Castro said, however, that she once asked Mendoza to stop her battle against influential and moneyed military officials for the safety of her own family but the advice was ignored.

Lots of blessings

De Castro remembered her sister’s response to her plea: “I have already received lots of blessings from the Lord. I could not turn my back on this little task that He assigned to me. I’m just His instrument to uphold the truth. What I have with me are documents, all products of my faithful investigation as a public servant.”

She said her sister, whom she described as courageous, intelligent and principled, reminded her that she was just obeying their father’s last message in his deathbed.

De Castro said her sister would not accept any form of gifts, not even fruits or gasoline money, and had been reluctant to give her calling card, especially to government officials with graft cases.

Valedictorian

Mendoza graduated valedictorian in her high school class in a private academy in Tayabas and obtained her college degree at Sacred Heart College in Lucena City.

She left Tayabas after her graduation in the early 1980s and immediately worked at the Commission on Audit. She married a college professor in a Manila university. They have three children, all college students, according to her sister.

Tayabas Vice Mayor Venerando Rea said Mendoza was often invited as a guest speaker at graduation rites in her hometown. He recalled that the last time he heard her give a graduation message was when she urged the graduating class to be honest in all their dealings in life.

Rea said the local government of Tayabas would adopt a resolution declaring its support for Mendoza.