Members of the Makabayan bloc have called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque over the deficiencies in the use of P67.32 billion in COVID-19 funds, as flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).
In a press statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Eufemia Cullamat said Duque should step down from his post amid the supposed corruption within the agency.
"Kailangan nang magresign ni Sec. Duque sa lantarang kapabayaan at korapsyon na nagaganap sa DOH," Cullamat said.
(Secretary Duque should resign amid the blatant negligence and corruption in DOH.)
"Imbis na sa pagtugon sa pandemya at paggugol sa bakuna at pagsasaayos ng mga pasilidad sa ospital, ang pera ng taumbayan ay napupunta sa korapsyon at pamamasista. Hindi natin ito dapat payagan," she added.
(Instead of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the procurement of vaccines, and establishment of hospital facilities, the money was being used for corruption. This should not be allowed.)
Cullamat expressed dismay that amid this alleged corruption, a number of healthcare workers have low income or delayed hazard pay and some hospitals lack enough facilities to address the pandemic.
"Pareho ang NTF-ELCAC at DOH na bilyones ang pondo at parehong may deficiencies sa audit ng public funds na allocated sa kanila sa panahon ng pandemic," Cullamat said.
(The NTF-ELCAC and DOH both have billions of funds and they both have deficiencies in the audit of the budget allocated to them amid the pandemic.)
"Lantarang pangungurakot ito sa harap ng lugmok na kahirapan at gutom ng marami. Habang ang mga opisyal ng ahensyang ito ay nagpapakabusog sa pera ng taong bayan, nakasadlak tayong mahihirap sa lumulobong dayuhang utang," she added.
(This obviously depicts corruption despite the hardships experienced by the public amid the health crisis. As the DOH officials are enjoying the public's money, citizens are encountering poverty and facing huge foreign loans.)
During a virtual press conference, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said many lives could have been saved if funds were properly utilized.
He also said this matter "borders criminal negligence."
"Maraming buhay ang puwede nitong naisalba noong nakaraang taon kung nagamit lang nang maayos ang pondo nito. Ilang buhay ang nawala dahil hindi nagastos nang maayos sa pamumuno ni Sec. Duque," Zarate said.
(Many lives could have been saved if the funds were utilized properly. Many lives were lost because the budget was not properly used under Sec. Duque's leadership.)
Zarate also said the bloc would certainly grill the DOH during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago stressed the importance of transparency in the utilization of funds, especially now that the country is still experiencing the health crisis.
"Kinakailangang tiyakin ang transparency hindi lang sa parte ng DOH kung hindi sa pangkabuuang pamumuno sa paglaban sa COVID-19 (We need to ensure that there is transparency on the part of DOH and the entire administration amid the COVID-19 battle). DOH must ensure transparency and provide full account on the COVID-19 funds," Elago said.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro also called for Duque's resignation over the issue.
"Ang panawagan natin, magresign na si Sec. Duque kasama na 'yung sapakat niya dito sa paglulustay ng pera ng bayan," she said.
(We are also calling for Sec. Duque's resignation as well as his cohorts in embezzlement of taxpayers' money.)
In a separate message to reporters, Anakalusugan party-list Representative Mike Defensor said the negligence of the DOH has only brought death and despair among Filipinos.
"Many families are deep in debt because they cannot pay for hospitalization. Many lockdown areas are wanting support from vitamins, antibiotics, among others," he said.
Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte wants the DOH to explain before Congress how it used its COVID-19 funds.
“The House leadership should make the DOH run the gauntlet in the chamber come 2022 budget deliberation time so us legislators could be apprised of how Secretary Francisco Duque III and other health officials had spent the Department’s Covid-19 response funds from,” Villafuerte said.
“We in the House need to find out whether the DOH had spent such huge Covid-19 response funds in a judicious and expeditious manner amid COA findings,” he added.
The lawmaker also slammed the “negligence” of health officials.
“This seeming I-couldn’t-care-less mindset of our officials at the DOH is totally disgusting and betrays their apparent apathy towards our doctors, nurses, and other hospital frontliners who risk their lives trying to save Filipinos from dying from COVID-19,” he said.
Sought for comment, Duque said his track record as a public servant will bear him out, adding that President Rodrigo Duterte chose him to lead the Health department because of his prior experiences in serving the government.
"'Yung track record ko eh huwag naman sanang kalimutan, nanilbihan naman tayo nang maayos (I hope my track record will be remembered. I have served well)," the Health chief told GMA News Online.
"Alam mo ang nag-appoint sa akin si Pangulong Duterte, inanyayahan niya ako andoon ako sa aking lalawigan, nanahimik at ako'y inimbitahan, inanyayahan ako na tumulong sa kanyang administrasyon," he said.
(President Rodrigo Duterte was the one who appointed me. I was at peace in my province when he asked me if I could serve under his administration.)
"Dahil alam niya, matagal din akong nagsilbi. Naging Secretary of Health ako dati, naging chairman ako ng Civil Service Commission, naging chairman din ako ng GSIS, nakita naman niya kung papaano ako magtrabaho," he added.
(He knew that I've served before. I became Health Secretary, I led the Civil Service Commission as well as the Government Service Insurance System. He knew how I perform my duties.)
In its annual report for 2020, state auditors said the deficiencies were mainly caused by non-compliance with laws, rules, and regulations.
According to COA, a total of P42.41 billion intended for the DOH’s COVID-19 response was transferred to procurement or implementing partner agencies without a memorandum of agreement and other supporting documents.
It added that a total of P11.89 billion had remained unobligated as of December 31 last year.
In response to the COA report, the DOH clarified that the P67.32 billion funds are accounted for and said it is currently addressing the compliance issues and deficiencies.
“Wala pong kinurakot, inilaan natin ang mga pondong ito para sa ating mga kababayan (Nothing was corrupted, these funds were intended for our countrymen),” Duque said.—With Joahna Lei Casilao/AOL/LDF, GMA News