ALLEGED foreign junkets by some officials of the Dangerous Drugs Board are now being investigated by government anti-graft authorities even as the president of the DDB Employees’ Union yesterday denied any knowledge of the letter supposedly sent by a certain Priscilla Herrera detailing former DDB chairman Dionisio Santiago’s alleged questionable acts while he still headed the agency.
DDB union president Jo Ann Desiderio said the union did not know about the letter until presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque presented the same at a news briefing in Malacañang on Monday.
Roque had said that President Duterte asked Santiago to resign not only because of his remarks about the mega rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija being “a miscalculation” but also because of the allegations of graft supposedly raised by the DDB union.
Desiderio said the letter did not come from the union and Herrera, while a DDB employee, is not a union member.
Santiago has vehemently denied the charges against him in the supposed DDB union’s letter and in particular said that he was not the “Santiago” referred to in the letter as having accepted gifts from suspected drug lords.
Journal Group sources confirmed the ex-Armed Forces chief’s claim and said that another “Gen. Santiago” who is also a product of the Philippine Military Academy and not the former DDB chair is the one who has been the subject of unsavory reports regarding his links with the infamous Parojinog family in Ozamiz City. The same official had also denied the accusation against him and said he has documents to back up his claim that he was the one who initiated operations to smash the illicit drug activities of the Parojinogs and some detained drug lords inside the National Bilibid Prisons a few years ago.
The alleged DDB union’s letter claimed that Santiago had been “using taxpayers’ money for junkets abroad.” “One of the complaints that reached the President was a trip to Austria, where in addition to bringing family members, General Santiago brought six of his closest personnel including a girl Friday identified as one Edith Julie Mendoza, said Roque. Mendoza is a daughter of a former DDB official.
It was followed by another trip to the United States last September, the Palace spokesperson added. Santiago denied the accusations against him and said that his travels were all authorized by the government and that his wife paid for her own trips just to be with him.
Santiago said his supposed accuser is willing to come out to deny the letter complaint she allegedly sent to Malacañang last month.
Santiago said he had talked with Priscilla Herrera over the phone and she had denied sending the letter.
Herrera also told her that the written surname on the letter was misspelled and that she does not write her full name in her signatures.
A copy of the letter showed that the signatory’s surname was spelled Hererra and not Herrera as Priscilla spells it.
Santiago reiterated that his supposed “junkets” were actually official trips and authorized by Malacañang.
He said he made two trips — one to the United States and Europe, particularly Vienna — and both trips were at the invitation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
He also admitted a “rendezvouz” with his family in Budapest, but they paid for their own travel. He added that his son, who is based in New York, is employed with Delta Air Lines and travels for free.
Santiago said there are also times that he and his wife would fly on business class, but they only pay a total of US$14 because of his son’s employment with Delta Air Lines. The former DDB chief also denied that he had mistresses.
He said he was clueless on the reason for Malacañang to come out with what he claimed were baseless allegations days after his resignation from the DDB.
The alleged Herrera letter also said that during Santiago’s trips abroad, he designated fired DDB chair Benjamin Reyes as acting DDB chairman although the latter was sacked from his post by President Duterte last May.
The complaint said that Reyes also continued to receive salaries and allowances even ‘without a valid appointment.’
Journal Group sources last July had said that Reyes, the DDB chairman fired by President Duterte last May 24 for using contradicting drug statistics. is still reporting to work and won’t vacate his office to the consternation of concerned DDB and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency officers and men.
The group also reportedly flew to Switzerland for another international anti-narcotics meeting and is set to travel to Adelaide and Sydney, Australia on December 4-8.
Santiago ouster clarified
Not “gospel truth” but “a whiff of corruption”.
Malacañang insisted that the allegations of corruption against Santiago may not be entirely true but “a whiff of corruption” was enough for President Rodrigo Duterte to let go of him.
“Hindi po namin sinabi na katotohanan ang lahat ng sinabi ng complaint. Ang punto ko po and I think ang word na ginamit natin was ‘even a whiff of corruption is enough for the President to be at least suspicious for the conduct of his closest allies,’” according to Roque.
Asked if Malacañang took steps to verify the allegations against Santiago, Roque said, “It’s been overtaken by events because the resignation came about.”
“I’m sorry if there’s been any misunderstanding but I’ve reviewed the transcripts. I was very clear, if there are allegations in a complaint, we did not say they are the truth,” Roque said.
“And that is why I understand General Santiago was somehow hurt. But I emphasize, we have never alleged that they are gospel truth, they are allegations, which I’m sure, he can easily dispute,” he added.
Roque said the move was meant to send a strong message to the appointees who serve at the pleasure of the President.
“I emphasized po kasi itong mga matataas na opisyales, hindi naman kinakailangan mapatunayan na magkakasala kasi ang matataas na opisyales po, they serve at the pleasure of the President unless there is a tenure,” Roque said.