Sino si Heidi Mendoza? [Tagalog for: Who is Heidi Mendoza?]
Her investigations and fraud accusations saw her face death threats and a wave of public support for her crusade and outcry against the government. In 2011 in the heights of these investigations, she was honored with the position of heading the COA as their new Commissioner with the brief by President Benigno Aquino III himself (son of the late Corazon Aquino—First Female Filipino President) to do whatever it takes to stamp out corruption, however, over a year and half after her position was announced, she is still to be officially sworn into the role.
The Brave Whistleblower’s Early Biography
Heidi Mendoza, born Heidi Lloce, grew up in the Philippine town of Tayabas, which is located at the foot of Mount Banahaw, an active volcano. Like her hometown, she erupted politically after speaking up against the AFP. Heidi’s father, Agapito Lloce Sr., worked as the town’s policeman. Her old man died in 1983 from heart complications and diabetes. She is the second youngest of seven children—five boys and two girls.
Growing up with such a large family meant money was always difficult for the family. Heidi talked about the experiences of her childhood when addressing students at the Manuel S. Enverga University Foundation in Lucena City, saying:
"I remember that when I was young I could not even pay the twenty-peso school contribution in grade school and that I had to pay a ten-centavo daily installment to complete the amount for one school year but that did not keep me from achieving my goals."
Heidi graduated from her high school in Tayabas as the valedictorian and initially wanted to become a doctor and social worker, however, at the prodding of her parents, she went on to attend Sacred Heart College in Lucena City and studied accountancy because they thought “that’s where the money is.”
She would later recount saying, “Accounting was very technical. It was all about numbers, and I didn’t really like it. But like I told my children, even though I didn’t like it, I still tried my best because otherwise, I’d feel guilty because my parents were working hard to send me to school.”
Heidi Lloce Becomes a Mendoza
During the 1980s, Heidi also met and fell in love with Meynardo “Roy” Mendoza who worked at Manila University as a History professor. In 1980, he decided to “go to the mountains” (Quezon) and work there to help end the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship there.
At first, Heidi would recount lovingly when she first met Roy, saying he was “mukhang poor at makalupa” (he looked poor and unrefined), with his long hair and beard while she was a Sanrio Kid, a “sosy” (upscale) girl. However she found herself attracted to the man who had introduced himself as “Mon Diyma.”
They would stay in touch over the years when Roy returned to Manila and Heidi, when visiting Manila, would help fight Roy’s cause and worked with him in assisting the poor.
In 1984 (after graduating from university), Heidi immediately accepted a junior position to work for the Philippine Commission on Audit where she specialized in conducting fraud audit. Upon finding that the role was more than numbers, it piqued her interest.
In 1986 at the end of the EDSA revolution, Heidi received a call from Roy urgently asking if he could travel to Mindoro to see her; they ended up meeting in Manila. When Heidi met Roy he was wearing formal clothes and proudly and excitedly informed her: "Malaya na ang bayan" (The country is free) and that the Marcos dictatorship had been overthrown. After 20 long years, democracy was at hand. He then asked Heidi for her hand in marriage.
Roy, ever the idealist, was very much like her wife. They agree on their choice of careers, vocations, beliefs, and actions with a philosophy of service, even when sometimes this was hard to accept as Heidi explains:
“There were times when I “hated” Roy for giving money to others when their family needed it as much. One Christmas when Roy donated his bonus to the slum community in Parola, Tondo, so the residents could pay their electricity bill. At the time Roy was working with the Presidential Commission on Urban Poor.”
Heidi Sees Corruption Up-Close
Over the next decade, Heidi and Roy were blessed with three children and they both continued in their careers; however, her career led her to uncover evidence that would later on put her and her family’s life on the line.
In the 1990s, Heidi was auditing a provincial treasurer, who had been suspended and dismissed from his position. In an attempt to scare Heidi, he told her that he was outside the office of the COA with hired gunmen. To prove that he wasn’t bluffing, he described what she looked like, how she was dressed, etc. Heidi was clueless what changed the man’s mind about harming her.
Heidi admitted that doing her job without compromising her moral beliefs was a challenging and difficult road to be on. This was no more evident than the time she would be required to spend days away from her family who would often question her decisions. Along the way, Heidi was also tempted with bribes; she recounts a visit to the Autonomous Region in the Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) when she was advised just after disembarking the plane,
“Ma’am, only two things can make you leave here: a suitcase of money, or a suitcase of bullets? I said, ‘Can’t I have a choice in the matter?’ But then, I managed to return to Manila with no bullets chasing after me?”
Furthermore she was offered bribes of five hundred thousand pesos each time she did not attend a court hearing. In retrospect, it was either she end up dead or rich! Of course, she always refused the offer—and still managed to live.
Today, she still laments how slow the Philippine justice system takes and that this slowness seems not to hinder but propagate the notion that corruption is ok. For instance, she filed a case against the ARMM in the 1990s when she was pregnant with her first daughter and the ruling was only handed down when her daughter turned 15!
Heidi Mendoza versus Elenita Binay
Again in 2001 to 2002, Heidi began another investigation and headed the Special Task Force to Review and/or Audit Contracts involving Purchases and Infrastructure Projects of Local Government Units in Metro Manila. Her team was to review and audit contracts of office and furniture of the local government along with the expenses of the hospital there. Dr. Elenita Binay, former Mayor of Makati City, was not able to present a floor plan when they opened bidding for the purchase of new furniture for the Makati City Hall. She testified against Elenita Binay, who is the wife of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, also a former Mayor of Makati City. She was certain that the bidding for the furniture had been rigged after finding out that the three companies awarded with the contracts were all owned by the same person.
Heidi Mendoza versus General Carlos Garcia
Between 2004 and 2006, Heidi was requested by the Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo to lead a group and conduct fraud investigation regarding the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) fund. The investigation was to focus particularly on actions of the then–AFP Comptroller General Carlos Garcia.
Her team was composed of a total of 11 staff and their addition brief was to also investigate the Philippine Soldier Pension Fund, the Balikatan Bank, United Nations Fund, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Fund.
Heidi’s investigations exposed a transaction involving a two hundred million–peso check, of which fifty million pesos was unaccounted for, (of course these allegations were defended by the military legal defense team, saying that her testimony had been debunked and the discrepancy was reconciled). She also testified on suspicious transactions directly involving Garcia and his family’s plunder to the amount of three hundred and three million pesos.
Heidi’s statement, coupled with her evidence, was backed up by a voucher for two hundred million pesos signed by Carlos Garcia that was land banked and cashed in 2002 in the United Coconut Planters Bank in Makati City. Her investigations also had evidence that fifty million pesos were withdrawn from this account as well as US dollars representing reimbursement for peacekeeping expenses and another five million US dollars representing UN reimbursement for equipment.
This exposed the history of Philippines military tradition (disclosed by George Rabusa, a military officer) giving tens of millions of pesos to a slush fund of the Philippine Army chief and other top military officials.
This sensational news cast the media and government spotlight directly on Heidi. Not helping was her former boss, COA Chairman Guillermo Carague, telling her to go easy on the investigation filed against Garcia. However, public outcry led to his resignation.
Heidi, after 20 years of unblemished service, wanted complete transparency in the investigation, so she stepped down from her position and entered a witness protection program due to death threats. Most chilling was Garcia’s public warning that for Heidi “there will be a day of reckoning!”
Heidi Resigns from COA and Works for Asian Development Bank
Concerned for her family, she wanted her kids to be sent abroad for their continued studies. When her son saw her crying on TV, he forwarded her a text message of support and encouragement for her to “compose herself and don’t give up on the case.” This, with the public support for Heidi and her family, was overwhelming and it inspired her to continue her quest for justice.
After resigning from COA, Heidi worked with the Asian Development Bank as a consultant. On weekends, she provided assistance to organizations as part of her giving back to the community whilst also launching her truth telling mission.
Her crusade quickly gathered support. Along with her support snowballing came increased media attention. At first, she was reluctant to speak, fearing the personal risk to her and her family). However, there was now no turning back. Heidi was on a mission to ensure a “trustworthy and honest government through constructive engagement between citizens and government.” She knew better than believe that this could not be achieved in a single day.
Heidi Testifies Against General Garcia
Between 2007 and 2009, Heidi presented at the Philippines Congress detailed evidence and provided documentations and receipts of inconsistent transactions for her testimony and prosecution of General Garcia as the main witness for the plunder case. Later in 2010, the general was released on bail, however, later in 2011, Heidi was able to again give documentation and evidence of a money trail and misuse of funds by the military and General Garcia converted or diverted from their intentional purpose, disclosing this evidence to the House of Representatives.
When asked why she put her life at such risk and took the high moral ground on the case against General Garcia, Heidi replied, “I took the responsibility of conducting an audit so as to give honor to the soldiers who, with low salary, are risking their lives in the defense of the country.”
A Facebook Page Calling to Confirm Heidi Mendoza
In April of 2011, the Philippines President Benigno Aquino III appointed Heidi to the position of Commissioner of Corruption at the COA in the government’s fight against corruption and transparency. Even though Heidi privately confessed to him that after everything she had gone through, she no longer felt like returning to public office. However, with the President’s advice, wisdom, and word of encouragement, she was convinced to keep on with her mission and crusade for a just government. She also received security from the Presidential Group SPG.
"The President expressed support, he was a bit concerned, and he wanted me to be guarded by his own Presidential Security Guards. And I wanted to joke and ask: are they handsome?”
The President instructed Heidi that her position and brief was to examine pork barreling allocations of members of Congress and bring transparency to the process that has been infected by corruption almost since its establishment.
Following this appointment, Heidi resigned from the consultancy position she held at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and was invited to speak at the World Bank discussions, where she spoke about “Effective Auditing as the Bane of Grand Corruption.” She was hailed as someone who works tirelessly to identify, expose, remove, and uproot corruption. At the discussions, Heidi also talked about fearing for her life and family’s safety after publicly naming General Garcia in the COA’s fraud and corruption case, ultimately leading to formal charges being filed against him.
Since her appointment, however, Heidi Mendoza still awaits formal confirmation. To show support, a Facebook Page was set-up to call for her appointment. You can view the page here.
Heidi Mendoza Doesn’t Regret Going Against Corruption
Despite the sacrifices, Mendoza maintains she doesn’t regret anything.
Heidi Mendoza has shown us that whatever your occupation and vocation is, you have a responsibility not only to yourself but also to others, which ultimately keeps the fabric of society from being torn down and dying a cancerous death. Trust is something that is implicit in people of responsibility and power and they cannot be left unchecked, and if found guilty of deceit and misappropriate behaviors, they must be held accountable to the public (since they represent the public).
Heidi Mendoza’s higher moral grounds, spiritual strength, and her doing what’s right are evidences to us all, that if we stay true to our cause and belief (as a person that represents the needs of others) and if we truly believe in our reason for doing what we do the truth will set us free.
Heidi’s story is also one of warning to others that hold positions of power and influence to not use their gifts for their own self-interest, but to serve the people as they were entrusted to do. Governments representing the public must always have checks in place to ensure corruption does not go unchecked.
We look forward to continuing to follow and write about the inroads and success Heidi is destined to have. Both in her exposing and uprooting corruption in the Philippines and that of a role model, mentor, and inspiration to other women and men throughout the world, strengthening their courage and resilience to not give in to corruption and continue the fight in making the world a better place for all mankind.
Awards & Achievements
- Lieutenant Colonel Rank in Military Reserve
- 2003: Attained Master’s Degree in National Security & Defense at the National Defense College
- 2006: Resigned from the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA)
- 2011: Appointed Commissioner of Audit COA
- 2011: Yahoo! Philippines Pitong Pinoy Awardee