ASIDE from the mishandling of COVID-19 response funds, the Department of Health (DoH) also failed to spend the P59.125 billion of its 2020 budget for health-related programs, prompting more House leaders to ask for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque to save the reputation of the Duterte administration.
Deputy Speaker and Manila Representative Bienvenido Abante Jr. said Duque should be held accountable for his actions especially in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic because it has a big impact on the lives of many Filipinos.
“When it comes to government officials, it is one’s performance in the present that matters, not one’s past. Take for example the case of my friend, Health Secretary Francisco Duque. I have worked with him before and can say that he did well in his first tour of duty in the DOH, as well as in other government posts,” Abante said.
“At this point, however, it may serve the greater good for Sec. Duque to step down so Malacañang does not have to repeatedly defend him and can instead focus on addressing the pandemic,” he added.
In its 2020 annual report, the COA disclosed its findings that DoH mishandled the P67.323 billion government funding released to avert the effects of the coronavirus disease.
Also in the audit report, the COA noted that out of the total budget of P200.855 billion, the DoH was able to obligate 87.73 percent or P176.214 billion for the various programs., activities and projects (PAP).
This resulted in a balance of P24.641 billion in unobligated funds. Of the obligated amount, only P141.718 billion was actually disbursed as of year end, leaving a balance of P34.4 billion in unpaid obligations.
These two items totaled to P59.125 billion unspent budget, which the lawmakers said could have saved many lives.
Deputy Speaker and CIBAC Rep. Bro. Eddie Villanueva said a deeper probe on corruption should be called.
“We are terribly disturbed by how the agency sluggishly, and with no apparent sense of urgency, disbursed some of its funds, particularly those intended for the allowance and hazard pay of our frontliners. We are in the midst of a pandemic, swift action is the name of the game in winning the war against COVID-19,” Villanueva said.
“These funds should have been released promptly to be used by thousands of our frontliners. Such well-timed release of assistance and benefits for our frontliners will spell the difference between inspiration or discouragement among our heroes,” he added.
The CIBAC lawmaker also slammed the perennial problem in the accumulation of unused, expired and nearly-expired drugs, medicines and other types of inventories, which in 2020 amounted to almost P95 million.
For her part, Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera asked DoH to submit a full and satisfactory explanation on the reported deficiencies.
Herrera said it is the obligation of the DOH to account for the COVID-19 funds and make sure the money has been used for its intended purpose.
“It’s after all taxpayers’ money. The DOH owes the public a full and satisfactory explanation as to how COVID-19 funds were spent,” the Bagong Henerasyon lawmaker said.
2 SENATORS SEEK PROBE
Senators Grace Poe and Franklin Drilon are seeking an inquiry on the utilization of the DOH COVID-19 fund, which the COA earlier found to have deficiencies.
“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed,” Poe said in her resolution.
“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose,” she stressed.
Poe said DOH’s deficiencies prove to be counter-beneficial to the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the disease at a crucial time.
“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds remained idle or were not properly and immediately used where they should go .
“Inefficiencies in the midst of a health crisis make our people bear the brunt,” she stressed, “ Poe added.
Drilon said the Senate should investigate the DOH’s handling of COVID-19 funds.
“The deluge of deficiencies that the Commission of Audit findings uncovered are alarming and disturbing .
“It is imperative that we examine closely the DOH’s use of billions of pesos in COVID-19 response funds given the findings of the COA and the corruption allegations that hounded the agency’s procurement of various COVID-19 equipment and supplies,” Drilon said.
“We heard of corruption allegations involving the purchase of PPEs and test kits and these corruption allegations have remained unanswered and unsolved,” he added.
Citing the COA report, Drilon said the Senate should particularly look into the P3.97 billion worth of contracts and projects with procedural deficiencies in the procurement process and lacking documentation.
OMBUDSMAN TO WAIT FOR AUDITING PROCESS
The Office of the Ombudsman will wait for the completion of the auditing process on the alleged deficiencies of the DOH fund for pandemic response.
Ombudsman Samuel Martirez said the COA is given the opportunity to ensure full implementation of all audit recommendations to improve financial and operational efficiency of the DOH.
The DOH came under fire following COA’s observation report regarding the health department’s utilization of the 2020 budget resulting in several lawmakers calling for the resignation of Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Some senators and House solons had asked President Duterte to fire Duque but to no avail.
However, this time, President Duterte directed the DOH to submit a comprehensive and clear response to the COA audit report.
Malacanang spokesperson Harry Roque said the President, however, would not make any judgment yet until final reports were submitted by both the COA and the health department through Duque.
According to Martirez, the Annual Audit Report (AAR) contains several audit observation memorandum reports and at this stage of the proceedings, it is proper to just wait for the completion of the process before moving to the next step.
“Should there be non-compliance or disagreement in the implementation of the recommendations and observations of the auditors, the matter may still be elevated to the COA en banc which has the final say on the matter,” the Ombudsman said in a statement.
Martirez said to await the completion of the auditing process avoids a repeat of having to withdraw cases already filed in court based on preliminary audit findings similar to the events that transpired in the Echiverri cases in 2018. He did not elaborate further. With Joel dela Torre and Marlon Purificacion