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Senators grill DOH, DBM on HCW pay, ₧42-B fund transfer

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SENATORS on Wednesday sought explanations from health officials on the delays in the grant of hazard pay and special risk allowances to health workers as mandated by the Bayanihan Law governing the pandemic response.

Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, grilling health officials led by Secretary Francisco Duque III, ferreted out the fact that part of the delay by DOH was also the result of the fact that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released the bulk of the funds for such to the DOH on June 25, five days before the expiration of Bayanihan to Heal As One law, or Bayanihan 1.

Nonetheless, Senators took the DOH to task for P975-million in unobligated funds, with Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon expressing dismay over this.

Addressing the first Blue Ribbon hearing on the Commission on Audit (COA) report of the DOH Covid-19 funds, Drilon said he found it “alarming that out of the P77-billion COVID-19 budget of the DOH, the COA has found deficiencies on the management of P67 billion.”

Transfer to DBM

He added that the “transfer of P42 billion to the Procurement Service of the DBM (PS-DBM) without documentation is the most alarming item,” a matter that Sen. Imee Marcos also weighed in on later in the hearing.

The senator noted that “it comprises the biggest chunk of the mismanaged P67 billion DOH Covid-19 funds,” recalling that “the COA said the P42- billion fund transfers were not supported with complete documentary requirements contrary to law and regulations, and casted doubts on the validity, regularity and propriety of transactions.”

Moreover, Drilon indicated probers are keen to know “who ordered the DOH to pass on the P42 billion to PS-DBM? Why are there no MOAs?”

Marcos, and later Sen. Risa Hontiveros, recalled that several local manufacturers that invested in retrofitting their factories—at government’s prodding—in order to produce quality, affordable PPEs that were then badly needed and in short supply around the world at the start of the pandemic, had complained how they were shut out of biddings done by the PS-DBM in behalf of DOH.

The Budget undersecretary who headed the PS-DBM, Christopher Lao, had resigned in June, and Gordon asked the DBM OIC-Secretary Tina Rose Marie Canda, to help the Blue Ribbon reach out to Lao, whom he planned to invite for the committee’s next hearing on August 25.

For her part, Senator Grace Poe wanted to know why Health Secretary Francisco Duque has not yet been suspended “for alleged acts bordering on negligence.”

In her opening remarks, Poe asserted that Duque should have been suspended after the Commission on Audit’s (COA) recent report on the DOH’s “long list of deficiencies.”

“Shouldn’t Sec. Duque be suspended by now if you are going to apply the same judgment as what happened  to the PhilHealth executives?” Poe asked.

The senator recalled that Ombudsman Samuel Martires last year ordered the preventive suspension of eight PhilHealth executives and five DOH officials for various offenses involving “use of people’s money” during the pandemic. Poe said that as she recalled it, when someone asked if the suspension won’t lower the morale of health workers, Martires reportedly replied, “but haven’t the people’s morale been brought down” as a result of the alleged shenanigans?

Poe asked at the hearing: “The fact that we cannot even go out of our homes—are we happy with what is happening? Are the medical frontliners happy with what is happening to them? Somebody must be held accountable.”

She recalled that in the 2020 COA report, a total of P11.89 billion remained unobligated on top of the P42.1 billion that was “transferred to partner agencies without a memorandum of agreement,” lamenting that “this is not just negligence, it is a criminal offense.”

Gordon concluded the six-hour hearing with a promise to representatives of health-care worker (HCW) groups that they will prod the relevant agencies to act on the delayed pandemic-related benefits for HCWs, as well as the still-unimplemented ruling by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea upholding the workers’ petition to reverse a DBM circular that resulted in the demotion of many nurses.

On the delayed payments of pandemic benefits, Sen. Sonny Angara, main sponsor of Bayanihan 2, asserted that, “Although most provisions of the Bayanihan 2 have lapsed, provision for HCW benefits subsists as long as there is a national emergency as declared by the President.”

Angara added, “There is legal basis to continue providing these benefits, and savings from other sources can be re-aligned for this.”

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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