Senate to probe DOH over audit report on ₱67-B pandemic funds

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is gearing up for an inquiry into the Department of Health’s management of its over ₱67-billion pandemic response funds.

In separate statements on Thursday, senators lamented the Commission on Audit’s 2020 report on the alleged “deficiencies” in DOH’s management of the fund due to non-compliance with pertinent laws.

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Senate President Tito Sotto said a panel will handle the matter when session resumes.

Sen. Richard Gordon told AdChoiceTV News on Thursday that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is open to leading the inquiry to also tackle the delayed release of the special risk allowance of health workers based on the ₱9-billion fund that the DOH received from the Department of Budget and Management.

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Sen. Grace Poe said the “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.”

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the ₱67 billion could have been used to properly compensate health workers and provide more medical supplies, free health services and even cash aid for those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ping Lacson said lawmakers could question the DOH when the Senate starts the deliberations on the budget of government agencies for 2022. He also criticized Health Secretary Francisco Duque III once again for failing to address controversies.

“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. Sadly, he doesn’t care about the health concerns of the people that he is supposed to serve,” Lacson said.

President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly defended Duque despite calls from senators to fire him.

He even called Duque a “hero” of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Final Word, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said Duque should be held accountable for the “deficiencies” reported under his department.

“When we say corruption, pati iyong (even) competence, inefficiencies we can deem that as corruption because hindi nga nagagamit ang funds (are not used) for the purpose it was appropriated. Kaya managot talaga dapat si (That is why) Secretary Duque (should really be held accountable),” he said.

The congressman also said public officials in the country should “emulate the other countries’ ethical standards” by immediately resigning from office once their inefficiencies are exposed, instead of defending themselves by saying the President still has confidence in their leadership.

“To supposedly save the President, some officials would have opted to resign to save the President doon sa kahihiyan (from shame),” Gaite said.

The Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives is planning to file a resolution to look into the Health Department’s “deficiencies” as reported by COA, Gaite added.

In a briefing on Thursday, Malacañang announced that Duterte instructed the DOH to answer the COA report.

The President is reportedly withholding judgment until a final report about the matter is released.

Reporting by Nadine Castro

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