President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night attributed the deficiencies in the Department of Health's multi-billion-peso allocation for COVID-19 response in 2020 to incomplete paperwork.
In his weekly Talk to the People, Duterte said it was "bulls—t" to think that the P67.3 billion set aside for the campaign against COVID-19 had been stolen.
"May mga project tayo, malaking project, so ngayon mayroong talagang mga papel papel na hindi masyadong kumpleto sa paperwork ," Duterte said.
[We have a big project. It can be expected that there would be documentary requirements that would not be too complete.]
"Kapag ang COA nagsabi sa deficiency, 'di mo masabi na ninakaw mong pera. Deficiency is really in producing the necessary documents," he added.
[When the COA says deficiency, you can't say that the money had been stolen.]
Duterte lamented that the audit document lacked enough data especially about government work that was still ongoing.
"The papers they (COA) are holding, in their custody are really insufficient... Don’t conduct an audit on our work na ongoing pa," Duterte said.
State auditors had found among other things several deficiencies in the DOH utilization of P67.32 billion in COVID-19 funds.
'Stop flagging, flogging'
The DOH has until September 30, 2021 to respond to these allegations.
Duterte at one point during the briefing told the COA to stop "flagging" government agencies, adding that it was tantamount to "flogging", spelling out both terms.
He said it wasn't only the DOH that was flagged but also the Department of Interior and Local Government and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez.
"Stop that flagging goddamnit. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it would condemn the agency or person that you are flagging," Duterte said.
Duterte also said that when COA flags down an agency "there is already a taint of corruption by perception."
'COA findings mostly resolved'
At the briefing, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the DOH had complied with some of the COA's recommendations.
In his presentation during the taped briefing, Vega said five recommendations had been already resolved, three partially resolved, while five were still undergoing compliance.
Vega said COA's concern on the P5 billion procurement was already partially resolved. Of the P5 billion, 2.48 billion was already addressed by procurement service.
However, the remaining P25 billion is being reviewed by DOH internal audit service. Transactions made in Bayanihan I and Bayanihan II funds were also being reviewed.
On the P1.4 billion failure to prepare and submit required documents, Vega cited that government hospitals Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital, Tondo Medical Center and San Lazaro Hospital were not able to submit a list of donations received last December 21, 2020.
Upon validation with hospitals, Vega bared that these facilities already provided COA the required listings of donations, which marks this concern as resolved.
The P275 million unauthorized meal benefits that COA flagged was also resolved.
Vega said this was already resolved after the funds for meal benefits turned to cash equivalents. The Office of the President approved the DOH request to use the funds for cash aid instead of meals for health care workers.
The official said health workers lamented that meals would only get spoiled because of they could not eat on time. —NB, GMA News