The Department of Health is under fire from the public and the legislative branch of government, following the Commission on Audit’s damning report which found deficiencies in the use of P67.323 billion earmarked for pandemic response.
According to the audit body, the DOH had access to funds for pandemic response however a large chunk in the amount of P11.89 billion was not used. The COA said that this could have been spent on “much-needed health supplies, equipment and service” for “health workers and the general public during the critical times of the pandemic.”
The audit body also reported that P95.15 billion in medicines and supplies were wasted because they were expired, soon to expire or otherwise kept unused in pricy warehouses. This led to “indiscriminate wastage of government funds and resources”, according to their report.
They also said that the health agency had P6.6 million in expired drugs, P69 million in overstocked, slow-moving medicines and P20 million in close-to-expiration drugs. The overstocked drugs, COA noted, was a sign of “excessive spending.”
Apart from the unused, expired drugs, the slow-moving inventories needed “expensive warehouse space and ties up valuable health resources which could have benefited the government’s health program for the poor.”
An emotional Francisco Duque III, health secretary, blasted COA for wrecking the reputation of the agency, saying that he and DOH officials had lost sleep over the report: “Mula noong Wednesday [August 11] na lumabas poi to, hindi na po ako nakakatulog. Ang mga kasama kong mga opisyal sa DOH, hindi na rin halos nakakatulog. Bakit, ‘ka ninyo? Sa kahihiyan. We were bloodied and bludgeoned with this issue.”
“Winarak ninyo kami eh. Winarak ninyo ang dangal ng DOH. Winarak ninyo ang lahat ng mga kasama ko dito,” he said, his voice breaking.
Last Wednesday, Duque maintained that “the P67.3 billion is accounted for.” He added: “Nothing was stolen and we allocated these funds for our people.”
At present, his department is organizing documents to disprove COA, which has given them until September 27 to submit their explanation.
Lawmakers also slammed the health department over the deficiencies, which the audit body said compromised the timeliness and efficiency of their efforts to control the health crisis.
Sen. Grace Poe and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon have separately filed for probes into the COA report. He added that allegations of corruption related to purchasing of equipment and supplies should be looked into.
Senate blue ribbon committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon will also be conducting a motu proprio investigation on the issue.
The House of Representatives has also announced that it will be launching an inquiry on the mishandling of Covid19 funds.
“We want to get the facts straight from COA and we are particularly concerned because the funds involved were among those allocated under the Bayanihan laws that Congress passed last year,” said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. The DOH is enjoined to appear before the House in a briefing where they will be expected to “explain and account for the…funds mentioned in the COA report.”
Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo also said that the health department was unable to release P13.5 billion meant for healthcare workers since last year. She too, has filed a resolution, calling for an inquiry into this anomaly.
“Their responsibilities are already a heavy burden, yet we can’t provide the benefits that rightfully belong to them? That’s unacceptable,” she said. “Congress should hold the DOH accountable for the funds that should have been disbursed to our health workers.”
Meanwhile, despite the health chief’s claim, some groups have renewed the call for his resignation.
“[Duque] doesn’t care about the health concerns of the people who he is supposed to serve,” said Sen. Panfilo Lacson. “What gives? It’s hubris. He only cares about his boss, the President who, for reasons only they probably know cannot and will not remove him from office in spite of repeated calls from the majority of senators and other sectors.”
Photo: Daily Tribune