MANILA, Philippines – When then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo decided in 2004 to look into irregularities in military transactions following the filing of plunder charges against comptroller Carlos Garcia, he had only one person in mind to head the team: auditor Heidi Mendoza.
Marcelo did not know her personally, but her body of work spoke for herself, and her reputation as a no-nonsense auditor preceded her.
On Tuesday, Mendoza testified at the House of Representatives to dispute the position of government prosecutors that the evidence against Garcia in the plunder case was weak-all, she said, in her “active and committed search for truth.”
In an interview Tuesday, he said he had asked for Mendoza for the special military investigations because she had led the team that conducted an audit of the city government of Makati.
He said there had been talk of death threats and harassment over the earlier audit but that Mendoza’s team nevertheless came through with a “complete” and “thorough” report.
“Because of her reputation, I requested her,” Marcelo said. “I didn’t know her. I only met her when she reported to me. I said, this is a person who not only has integrity but competence as well.”
At first glance, nobody would suspect that the slim, soft-voiced, 48-year-old mother of three was the driving force behind many explosive reports on government irregularities.
Naked through the streets
But as Mendoza spoke at the House inquiry into the controversial plea bargain between Garcia and government prosecutors, her steely resolve to do what was right shone through.
So convinced was she of the strong evidence against Garcia that, she recalled, she and state prosecutors promised each other that they would run naked through the streets of Quezon City in protest if the case against the military comptroller would be dismissed.
After sitting through the seven-hour hearing conducted by the House committee on justice, Mendoza appeared tired. She told reporters that her back ached.
But she was unmoved from her stance that there was evidence against Garcia: “I am rather consistent on this. I believed from the start that there is evidence.”
Mendoza, whose father was a policeman, stressed that she had nothing against the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit or the Armed Forces.
“It is out of my commitment to my responsibility as an auditor, a public auditor, that I need to bring out the truth and bring the report to the people, to whom I am accountable,” she told reporters.
Mendoza’s commitment has taken a heavy toll on her family. It has also prompted her to resign from her new job in an international organization.
She made no bones about her children’s discomfort over her decision to speak out publicly against the prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman.
“I fear for my children,” she said. “I pity them because they should not have been dragged into this. Since the day I decided to be interviewed [on the issue], it had been very difficult for my children because life now is never ordinary.”
Because Mendoza now has to be extra –careful, the family cannot easily go out-“and that’s something my children hated,” she said.
She has to make sacrifices now, including distancing herself from her loved ones: “I cannot afford to go home and rest with my children because I want to defuse security threats. So I will be on my own. I will be in a place that I cannot disclose, away from my children.”
Mendoza aired a suspicion that attempts were being made to tap her mobile phone.
“I keep on changing my SIM card,” she said. “Siguro maraming gusto makichismis sa mga tawag ko (Maybe some people want to listen in on my calls.”
Mendoza also has to deal with security issues now, which makes her independent spirit uncomfortable.
“I’m a very, very mobile person. I want to move on my own. I don’t want any security [detail]; I am just forced to have one because it is needed. If I will be asked, I don’t want to have security [guards],” she said.
Mendoza said she had not received any threats since making public her sentiments on Garcia’s plea bargain. But she said she had learned that a “demolition job” was being planned against her.
But she appeared to take this in stride, saying: “That’s part of any effort to tell the truth.
“What I am saying is I just did what is right, what should be done. I am not a party to anybody’s agenda. It is my sole conviction and it is a response of my call as a Christian and as an auditor of the republic.”
— Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network