By Hanah Tabios
After exposing the plight of healthcare workers and psychiatric patients at the country’s premier mental health facility, the chief administrative officer of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) was ordered by the health department to be reassigned to a drug facility in Las Piñas City.
In a document obtained by the Manila Bulletin, the Department of Health’s (DOH) Department Personnel Order No. 2020-1078 dated March 9 said that Clarita Avila was ordered to be transferred to the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC) in Las Piñas to assist the current officer-in-charge, Dr. Alfonso Villaroman, in managing and making the facility operational.
But Avila alleged that the document released by the DOH was antedated as it was only received by the office of Dr. Rolando M. Cortez, the hospital’s medical center chief, last April 13, Monday, more than a month after it was drafted.
That same day, Cortez also relayed through NCMH Hospital Order No. 2020-0434 that Avila’s transfer will take effect immediately and that the supervising administrative officer will be designated as the hospital’s administrative service officer in charge for the meantime.
But Avila questioned the legality of her transfer. “I will file an appeal with the Civil Service Commission. For being a whistleblower, this is my answer—my reassignment to the Drug Rehab Center in Las Pinas is a form of harassment, persecution and abuse of authority,” she said.
But DOH Undersecretary Roger Tong-an denied Avila’s claim that the order released was antedated… He said the NCMH chief Cortez wrote a letter to DOH last March 6 requesting the transfer of Avila for her alleged “deliberate disobedience to directives” wherein the matter is not directly related to COVID-19.
Avila had been speaking to the media, exposing the condition of frontline workers and psychiatric patients at NCMH while the whole of Luzon remains under quarantine, until Cortez issued a gag memorandum against Avila last April 8.
But in an interview, the hospital chief said: “The reason behind the transfer is walang trabaho ‘yan at output since January to December 2019 at dapat tanggal na yan sa gobyerno.” (The reason behind the transfer is because because she’s not working satisfactorily and has had no output since January to December 2019 and she should have already been removed from government service..)
As proof to support his claim, Cortez showed to the Manila Bulletin a document signed by the hospital’s chief of human resource management, Rosario Cristina Guillerme, which said that Avila “has not submitted any performance review for the following rating periods of January-June 2019 and July-December 2019.”
“Gumaganti ‘yan sa present management kasi may mga kaso nai-file sa kanya,” he added. (She is retaliating against the present management because there are cases filed against her.)
Last year, Cortez with assistance from the National Bureau of Investigation, filed a criminal complaint before the Ombudsman against Avila and 13 others, including former and current officials of NCMH, over an alleged anomalous construction project worth P60 million.
The NBI also found from the articles of incorporation of Octant Builders that Avila “is one of the incorporators of Octant Builders,” where the company received the full payment of the project despite the construction irregularities of the hospital’s Pavilion-6 Pay Ward.
On Wednesday, April 15, Avila’s lawyer sent a formal notice to Cortez informing him that Avila will be taking legal action.
Avila has been with NCMH for 30 years since her permanent appointment in February 1998. Hence, she said the order for transfer was illegal. “Under the Magna Carta for Health Workers, you cannot reassign or transfer a health worker without her consent. They never asked for my consent,” she said.
But the hospital chief said: “Kaya hindi kinausap ‘yan kasi hindi naman nagpapakita yan sa superior nya kasi she feels like a director, too, in the hospital.” (The reason this matter was not discussed with her was because because she is not even reporting to her superior because she feels like a director, too, in the hospital.)
Cortez also belied Avila’s claim that the hospital lacks personal protective equipment (PPEs). Cortez gave the Manila Bulletin a document showing that as of April 13, the hospital has 5,090 PPE sets on hand.