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Thursday, February 21, 2008

DoJ chief clears review center execs of criminal liability

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Editor's Note: Reposts to correct lead.

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2) The Department of Justice (DoJ) has cleared three officers of the R.A. Gapuz Review Center of criminal liability even as it ordered the filing of criminal charges against an official of Inress Review Center in connection with the leakage-tainted June 2006 nursing licensure exam.

In a resolution dated February 5, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez affirmed the filing of charges against George Cordero, president of Inress Review Center president and former president of the Philippine Nurses Association.

But Gonzalez modified the findings of prosecutors that were released last year and ordered them to withdraw the charges filed against Ricarte Gapuz Jr., Ma. Elena Altarejos and Jonna Bucud for alleged manipulation and other corrupt practices in the conduct of professional examinations, in violation of the Professional Regulation Modernization Act.

Gonzalez said the DoJ office found probable cause to put Cordero on trial, saying that records showed the leakage questions given to test takers came from Inress, not from Gapuz and Pentagon review centers.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had recommended the filing of charges against 19 officers and operators of Inress, Gapuz and Pentagon nursing review centers.

Gonzalez said the DoJ gave weight to the testimony of witness-reviewee Dennis Alba-Bautista who claimed he was among those present during the final coaching class conducted by Inress two days before the exams began.

Bautista also presented as evidence a compact disk he said the reviewers listened to during the coaching class, wherein 25 items in the contested Medical-Surgical test and 90 items in the Psychiatric Nursing test were allegedly identical to the lectures of Inress.

Bautista also said that Cordero seemed to know of the leakage questions beforehand, saying the Inress official even promised that those who would top the board exam would get tuition refund.

"Such confidence of respondent clearly implies that all questions Inress Review will discuss shall be asked in the examination. Corollary thereto, respondent's review center even distributed CDs to their reviewees to concentrate on the questions encrypted therein," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez meanwhile affirmed the dismissal of charges against Bucud, as well as Gapuz and Altajeros, pointing out that the indictment of the Gapuz officials were merely for "secretly informing or making known the examination questions prior to the day of the examination" and not for rigging the licensure exam.

Gonzalez also took note of reports that when the controversy erupted, stories likewise started to circulate that several review centers allegedly paid for the trips abroad of some examiners in the nursing board exams.

"While this Office notes such fact, no evidence has been presented which can justify the indictment as to who in particular was involved in such illegal and scandalous act," he said, even as he added the NBI must investigate the examiners who were reported to have traveled abroad.

Of the 42,600 nursing graduates who took the June 2006 exam, only 17,821 passed. The leakage prompted the PRC to order a retake of the contested portions of the examination.

The discovery that leaks in two subjects in the June 2006 nursing licensure examinations gave rise to a months-long controversy that reached the courts and led to the postponement of the oath-taking of the passers.

The Court of Appeals ordered a partial retake of the exams, to cover the two subjects, medical-surgical nursing or Test III and psychiatric nursing or Test V.

The controversy attracted international attention, with the United States-based Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS International) announcing that Filipino nurses who were licensed after passing of the June 2006 exams would not be issued visas to work in the US.

The result was that most of the passers, not wishing to jeopardize their chance to work in the US, opted to retake Tests III and V or the entire exams during the retake conducted the following June. Leila Salaverria, Inquirer


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