The Department of Health has shelved hundreds of life-saving respirators donated by private companies at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic because of a controversial rule issued by former Civil Service Commission chairman now Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in 2010 following the receipt of grant money from a U.S. lobby group.
In a Congressional hearing conducted by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano said the respirators donated by private companies were left idle in the warehouse by the DOH because of the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2010-01 issued by the CSC and the DOH that prohibits government officials and employees from interacting with the tobacco industry.
This was confirmed by DOH-Bureau of International Health Cooperation director Dr. Maria Soledad Antonio who said the 370 respirators were still in the warehouse of the DOH, but would soon be distributed to hospitals. The DOH asked the CSC for clarification on whether they can receive Covid 19 donations from tobacco companies back in Dec 2020 and was given the green light in March. To the dismay of congressmen in attendance, the respirators are still in the DOH warehouse.
“This JMC is the root cause of the problem,” said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. “There are now 370 respirators with the DOH…And they are not using it.”
“Imagine 370 respirators needed during the pandemic and the DOH is not using them because they are donated by the tobacco industry. People are dying in the Philippines and yet because of JMC, the DOH is not using them,” Rodriguez said.
Savellano also disclosed that because of JMC 2010-01, several anti-tobacco groups were questioning the acceptance by the Department of National Defense of biohazard suits which were used by frontliners at the start of the pandemic.
Savellano pushed for the revocation of JMC 2010-01. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was the chairman of the CSC when the JMC was issued in 2010.
CSC Commissioner Atty. Aileen Lourdes Lizada said she personally recommended that the JMC 2010-01 revoked and admitted they had no record of Duque being authorized to sign the circular.
“But our office is looking into intrinsic infirmities because we do not want the JMC to be used when there are intrinsic infirmities. That’s why the CSC study on the matter is ongoing,” Lizada said.
Rodriguez said Duque, as CSC chair in 2010, was not authorized to sign the JMC by collegial board. “No record can be found in CSC that authorizes the chairman on behalf of the collegial body. And yet this is now the cause why donations for respirators have not been immediately dispatched,” said Rodriguez.
“This JMC is an unlawful and unconstitutional memorandum that has remained unchecked until today,” Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Rep. Jericho Nograles said earlier.
Nograles said several government agencies received a total of US$2.5M from The Union, which is funded by the anti-tobacco advocacy Bloomberg Initiative.
He said in 2009, the Department of Health received US$742,441 for the development and enforcement of local government smoke-free ordinances; the following year, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) received US$206,701 for the same purpose.
In 2010, the DOH received US$369,877 for tobacco control policies, the same year the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and DOH Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2010-01 was issued, Nograles said.
In 2014, the DOH received US$192,000 for the National Tobacco Control Strategy. In 2015, the DepEd received US$158,039 for its tobacco advertising ban campaign. In 2016, the CSC received US$183,695 and the MMDA received US$160,000, Nograles said.
The hearing was part of the House legislative inquiry into receipt of funds by the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies from Bloomberg Philanthropies—the charity of American financial services billionaire Michael Bloomberg and whether such donation influenced government policies and regulations.
FDA Director-General Dr. Rolando Enrique D. Domingo confirmed in the first hearing in March that the FDA applied for and received a grant of $150,430 from The Union in 2016 mainly to hire “job order” employees who would draft the tobacco control policies of the agency”.