Senate sets Aug. 18 probe of DOH use of ₧67-B Covid fund


SENATE probers are on track to mount an inquiry next week into key issues raised by state auditors on the Department of Health’s (DOH) handling of P67 billion in Covid-19 response funds.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the  investigating Blue Ribbon Committee, said Wednesday’s probe will focus first on hazard pay and special risk allowance of health care workers deployed in the fight against Covid, as other aspects of the Commission on Audit report are still awaiting a formal explanation from the Department of Health (DOH).

Gordon noted the DOH still has 60 days to answer issues raised by the COA report, so the Senate investigating panel would not touch this right away.

The prolonged delays in payment of the hazard pay and SRA are of urgency, however, since the overworked healthcare staff are now very restive, especially as the current surge in cases, fueled by the Delta variant, is posing undue burdens and risks to them, Gordon said.

Sen. Imee Marcos, who chairs the Economic Affairs committee, meanwhile, said she will focus her questions on the billions in expired medicines in DOH’s inventory, expressing suspicion that some parties may be reaping huge profits from over-ordering drugs close to expiration dates.

She also assailed the DOH’s failure in using well P24 billion in unobligated funds flagged by the COA.

Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon pressed for the Senate investigation into DOH “mismanagement” of P67.32-billion Covid-19 funds, which Health Secretary Francisco Duque III insisted was not stolen.

Drilon sought the Senate inquiry in aid of crafting remedial legislation to address “deficiencies and poor handling” by the DOH of the funds intended to boost DOH response to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minority Leader affirmed “the Senate should investigate the Department of Health’s handling of Covid-19 funds,” after noting that “the deluge of deficiencies that the Commission of Audit findings uncovered are alarming and disturbing.”

Drilon recalled that “we heard of corruption allegations involving the purchase of PPEs and test kits and these corruption allegations have remained unanswered and unsolved.”

Citing the COA report, the Minority Leader prodded Senate probers to “particularly look into the P3.97 billion worth of contracts and projects with procedural deficiencies in the procurement process and lacking documentation.”

Among others, Drilon wants to know “who was involved in these purchases? Which agency made the procurement? Where are these people now? Are they still in the government?” he asked.

He lamented that “while we see a shortage of beds, PPEs, ventilators, oxygen tanks, the DOH incurred P24.64 billion in unobligated funds that could have augmented our medical resources and paid on time the risk allowance of our medical frontliners.”

Moreover, Drilon criticized the DOH for “around P2.83-billion idle, unfinished and delayed health facilities and P1.23 billion worth of equipment that were undelivered, unutilized and/or without calibration and preventive maintenance.”

Chronic expiry

For her part,  Senator Marcos said she wants to focus on at least two main issues in the audit report:  the P24 billion in unobligated funds; and the chronic failure of DOH to manage its medicine inventory, resulting in billions of drugs expiring each year.

She maintained that, “If it is not sheer inefficiency repeated year on year, it means something else, right?”

Marcos added, partly in Filipino: “I mean, if we’re always faced with problems of expired drugs, that means, they over-ordered even for what was not needed?  From the download [of supplies] to the hospitals, LGUs, does that mean they’re in cahoots with suppliers who deliver items that are near expiry, so someone earns more—and not necessarily what people really need? One can’t help but suspect something here, because it keeps happening.”

Marcos also took issue with the delay in action of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in rolling out a uniform vaccination card that can be accepted globally, recalling that DICT had promised this for August 2021. “That is now, right? They made a promise and we believed them.”

She said  she will ask Gordon, as Blue Ribbon chairman, to also summon DICT to the hearing “because I have questions about this data base; they must be asked about this. That is a big matter, especially for OFWs who badly need to return to their host countries, but need a vaccine passport.”

Meanwhile, she said, the ayuda or financial subsidy is “not sustainable, and we should provide jobs.”

Marcos pitched a “cash for work” setup where government pays people to do certain tasks, like cleaning streets or canals. “The ayuda is just one time, you never know when you’ll have one again.”

Read full article on BusinessMirror

Leave a Reply