Dr. Hilarion J. Ramiro, Jr. - A Different Lent

Healthbeat 1996 No. 1b.jpgHealthbeat 1996 No. 1b.jpg

No better way to illustrate the Domino Effect theory than the events that happened to the then Health Secretary Hilarion J. Ramiro, Jr.

Like a domino piece placed in front of another, when Ramiro fell from grace, everyone within his reach fell down with him. Including the entire Department of Health.

And that was in March, the Season of Lent.

It started out with an anonymous “white paper” faxed to the different offices of the Department of Health and some offices of Senators on 4 March. This contained allegations of graft and corruption, accusing Ramiro and his top aides of juggling funds for health programs and making illegal purchases. Even Ramiro’s wife, House Rep. Herminia Ramiro, was accused of favoring a group of suppliers over the procurement needs of the DOH.

In the days that followed, Ramiro laughed off allegations raised in the white paper saying it was untrue and only part of a smear campaign against him.

Then, Senator Juan Flavier called for a Senate inquiry and Ombudsman Aniano Desierto ordered an investigation, particularly into the alleged overpriced purchase of P.9.9 million medical kits for typhoon victims and P89.9 million worth of Hepatitis B vaccines.

The litany of charges continued and the way to Ramiro’s “cross” was being paved.

On 11 March, adding controversy to an already scandalous issue, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism published a report of more alleged corrupt practices of Ramiro and his aides, including his supposed request for a Pajero from a multinational drug company.

Marathon hearings were made by the Senate committees on health and ethics. Then, President Fidel V. Ramos created a three-member panel, known as the Committee of Peers led by Justice Secretary Teofisto Guingona, to look into the charges.

“So as not to duly influence the ongoing investigation,“ Ramiro went on an indefinite leave of absence on 15 March.

With Ramiro, Health Undersecretaries Manuel G. Roxas and Teresita de la Cruz were charged. Also included were some officials of the Procurement and Logistics Service and Finance Service.

On 20 March, Senator Orlando Mercado made a privilege speech pushing for the reorganization of the entire DOH. Corruption, he said, is very rampant in the DOH ever since he could remember.

Already, the whole DOH’s integrity was being questioned.

Ramiro, still expecting to clear the cloud of suspicion on him, called for a news conference saying there was no medical kit scan because he had not yet signed the check covering an initial payment for the kits. He went on to radio and television shows to clear his name. He kept his wits about him saying, “Kapag may Biernes Santo, may Domingo Resurrection.”

But the agony kept coming for Ramiro. On 22 March, his brother-in-law, Boots Villaluz, was arrested and charged of bribing Senator Nikki Coseteng in the amount of P1 million as first of three payments for the latter’s silence on the corruption charges.

On the same day, Ramiro tendered his resignation which President Ramos accepted immediately.

After almost eight months, his stint as health secretary ended. It was the shortest Cabinet term in the Ramos’ administration. One of those considered “the best and brightest” was pushed to a grim fail.