Senators seek probe of DOH’s ₧67.3-B COA-flagged funds


AT least four senators  on Thursday sought a Senate investigation into the Commission on Audit (COA) report on the Department of Health’s (DOH) handling of over P67 billion in Covid-19 funds.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon called for a Senate inquiry in aid of legislation into the deficiencies and poor handling by the DOH of about P67.32 billion funds meant to respond to the pandemic.

At the same time, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros also pressed for a Senate probe in separate statements.

“We should investigate the Department of Health’s handling of Covid-19 funds,” said Drilon, adding that “the deluge of deficiencies that the Commission on Audit findings uncovered are alarming and disturbing.”

Lacson said he expects “the issue on the DOH’s management of pandemic response funds will definitely be taken up during the deliberations of the DOH’s 2022 budget, once the Senate starts the hearings before approving their budget. This is among the many other issues hounding the agency.”

That said, Lacson added: “I remember that during DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III’s confirmation hearings at the Commission on Appointments, I asked him some questions on DOH’s supply chain issues and what he intended to do to resolve those issues. He could not answer my questions satisfactorily, if at all.”

Binay: Frontliners’ sacrifice wasted

Meanwhile, former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay lamented how the “hard work and sacrifice of medical frontliners has been squandered” as a result of the DOH leadership’s apparent neglect.

“They are being led in this uphill battle against a deadly virus by an inefficient and incompetent Health Secretary. Imagine billions of pesos in health funds unspent or misspent during a pandemic. This is unpardonable,” Binay said in a statement.

And yet, Binay added, “the Health Secretary and other officials will always blame us and our supposed lack of discipline for our predicament. Whenever there is a surge in infections, it’s always our fault, never theirs.”

The COA report, Binay said, “should end this scapegoating” once and for all. “Kayo ang nagkulang, Mister Health Secretary, at mayroong resibo [You’re the one who fell short, Mister Health Secretary, and there’s proof of it].”

Poe, in a resolution, also pressed for an inquiry.

“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed,” Poe said.

“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose,” she stressed.

Hontiveros, in turn, pointed out that given the COA findings, “the DOH seems to be depriving thousands of Filipinos of healthcare services in the face of national emergency and it is nothing short of criminal.”

She added: “I expect the DOH to comply with the COA audit observation and accounting, but that doesn’t end there. In the midst of a crisis, we need commitment and competence from the DOH leadership to ensure every peso budgeted and allocated would saves lives.”

For his part, Drilon  asserted, “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, Drilon suggests the Senate should particularly look into the P3.97 billion worth of contracts and projects with procedural deficiencies in the procurement process and lacking documentation.

“This is where unscrupulous individuals or syndicates in the government dip their sticky fingers. We must examine this especially given the corruption allegations that involved the purchase of various Covid-19 equipment and supplies,” Drilon added.

“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose,” she stressed.

At the same time, Sen. Drilon is also keen 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.

Drilon deplored Duque’s ineptitude is sabotaging the government response to the pandemic.

“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,” Drilon said.

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