Nat'l Center for Mental Health

Ex-NCMH exec masterminded hospital chief’s slay – QCPD

Rambo Talabong

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Ex-NCMH exec masterminded hospital chief’s slay – QCPD
(UPDATED) Former chief administrative officer Clarita Avila is accused of being behind the murder of National Center for Mental Health chief Roland Cortez and his driver

Former National Center For Mental Health (NCMH) administrative chief Clarita Avila was behind the murder of NCMH chief Roland Cortez and his driver Ernesto dela Cruz, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) alleged on Tuesday, August 25.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, QCPD Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (QCPD) chief Major Elmer Monsalve flashed a diagram of suspects in the killing of Cortez that showed Avila as the top suspect who supposedly had direct contact with the alleged gunmen and the people suspected of hiding the vehicle used for the killing.

They are all accused of two counts of murder before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.

Rappler has sent a request for comment to Avila through text messages but she has yet to reply. We will update this story with her statement once we receive it.

The other suspects

The two gunmen were identified as Harly Pagarigan and George Serrano.

Meanwhile, the suspects accused of either hiding the vehicle used in the killing or knowing about its whereabouts were identified as Sonny Mitra, Edison Riego, Ma Christina Mitra Riego, and Albert Eugenio.

Monsalve said they are still looking for other suspects involved in the killing as they speak with more witnesses.

The motive

Monsalve alleged that the murder was orchestrated after Cortez initiated anti-corruption investigations at the NCMH.

One of the officials whom he implicated included Avila, who is facing a graft and malversation complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman filed by Cortez in July 2019. (READ: NCMH exec behind ‘exposé’ reassigned to Las Piñas drug rehab center)

“He exposed the anomalies in NCMH. He filed cases against officials, including Clarita Avila. That’s when the threats came,” Monsalve said.

What was the complaint about?

Cortez filed graft and malversation complaints against Avila after she approved a P55-million contract with construction firm Octant Builders to build the NCMH’s Pavilion 6.

Pavilion 6 was turned over and paid for in May 2018 despite being unfinished – it had missing doors, windows, and ceilings.

According to Cortez’s 2019 complaint, Avila was an incorporator of Octant Builders, and that she allegedly gained millions in the transaction. Included in his complaint were other NCMH administrative officers and bids and awards committee staff members.

Bad blood?

In an interview with ANC in April 2020, Avila downplayed the corruption complaint lodged against her as a case of “harassment” and Cortez’s way of “shaming” them, without addressing how she was linked to Octant Builders.

Avila made headlines at the time for blowing the whistle on the coronavirus response of the NCMH, which led Cortez to issue a gag order against her and recommend her reassignment to the Drug Abuse Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Las Piñas.

Avila added in the April 2020 ANC interview that she planned to file a complaint against Cortez for his “rude,” “bullying,” and “shaming” behavior against her and other NCMH employees. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.