Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco Duque III is in the hot seat again. This time, it’s a flaming one.
Last Wednesday, the Commission on Audit (CoA) released its recommendations pointing to myriad issues on alleged DoH mishandling of Covid-19 funds.
We’re talking about the P67.32-billion allotted for the DoH to do its part in handling the pandemic. CoA’s audit report said, “the use of funds by the DoH were non-compliant with pertinent laws, rules and regulations.”
From the slow response to Covid-19 to overpriced Remdesivir to the PhilHealth mess, Duque’s DoH has been rife with allegations, accusations and suspicions since day one.
Mr. Duque, who may have sailed through these in the past, has earned the people’s ire in spades this time around, what with so many questionable transactions muddying up the Health Department’s good name.
The figures are shocking and the report findings damning, but not as bad as the Filipinos’ rising rage at perceived shenanigans during a period of great stress and distress for the populace.
“Various deficiencies involving some P67,323,186,570.57 worth of public funds and intended for national efforts of combating the unprecedented scale of the Covid-19 crisis were noted,” the CoA report said.
“These deficiencies contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DoH during the time of the state of calamity/national emergency, and cast doubts on the regularity of related transactions,” it added.
Duque was quick to respond, of course, saying the funds had been “fully accounted for,” it further said in reports.
But “fully accounted for” is a far cry from fully disbursed and utilized.
Among the main expenditures for DoH are test kits and personal protective equipment, health care workers’ benefits and salaries.
All these and more translate to life and death, not just for people who fall ill from Covid-19 but also for those caring for their health and servicing the health sector to ensure safety for the entire population.
Even if we assume that procurement and payment were made for all the above-listed necessities, the CoA report notes that the process may have been deficient.
For example, P5 billion in purchases were made “without documenting the procurement.” About P11.9 billion meant to “strengthen the Department’s capacity to address the Covid-19 pandemic” were allocated but has remained unspent.
Some P69.9 million “worth of medical equipment and supplies for Covid19 remained unutilized.”
An astounding “P275.9 million” listed for “cash allowances, gift certificates and grocery items” for personnel were found by CoA to be “inconsistent with the provisions” of the law and lacked “sufficient” legal basis.
Donations in kind worth P1.405-billion were “not properly accounted for” as proper documents were not submitted.
The figures are mind-boggling — but not as stunning as the fact that unexplained deficiencies should mar the government’s pandemic response — which has been getting mixed reviews after all.
Is it the people managing it or is it the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism or IRM that needs to be examined?
Is Duque, who chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, accountable for this?
If not, then who’s to be held responsible for a deeply reactive response to the direst health emergency our country and the modern world have faced?