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Ombudsman probe: Vergeire says DOH caught off guard

The Department of Health said it was caught off guard by the Office of the Ombudsman’s ongoing probe on the agency in connection with purchase of COVID-19 test kits and other issues, maintaining that the department has always been transparent with its processes.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire was referring to accusations of Ombudsman Samuel Martires that the Ombudsman probers were given a runaround by the DOH during the course of the investigation which dates back to before the government imposed lockdown to prevent COVID-19 transmission last March 15.

“Yes, I was surprised why we are being investigated by the Ombudsman. We have always been transparent. Lahat na aming datos, pinapakita namin sa publiko, every day, in our pressers, data is made available in different platforms,” Vergeire said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“Kung sakaling nagkaroon ng runaround, napagpasa-pasahan, hindi naman po siguro ganun. Ang RITM po kasi ay under DOH, kaya may mga referral po ang RITM sa DOH and then back to RITM. Pero pinatitignan na po natin ito. We will be cooperating with the processes of the government,” Vergeire added.

RITM is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the biggest laboratory processing COVID-19 test results.

Vergeire also said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III already gave a marching order to track the trail of the Ombudsman’s request for documents.

“Lahat po ng request for documents sa opisina namin ay binibigyan po namin ng response at kung hindi naman po namin maibigay, nagbibigay po kami ng acknowledgment,” Vergeire added.

“We are checking kung saan nagkaroon ng kakulangan. There were information being asked from us, at pinag-aaralan nating mabuti; tinitignan po ng opisina kung ano po ang circumstances para makasagot po tayo ng maayos sa ating Ombudsman,” Vergeire said.

Ombudsman Martires, in a separate dzBB interview, warned the Health Department that non-cooperation in the investigation can lead to filing to administrative charges such as gross inexcusable negligency, inefficiency, or gross incompetence.

Martires also said that the DOH has a lot to answer for, considering that nothing much has been done during the lull period between the first case of COVID-19 recorded in January until local COVID-19 transmissions started in March.

“Anong ginawa ng Department of Health para ihanda ang health workers sa kalaban na di mo nakikita?,” Martires said, referring to those health workers who died on duty due to lack of personal protective equipment.

Vergeire conceded that the probe affects the DOH personnel’s morale, but clarified that they are ready to fulfill their mandate no matter the circumstances.

“Nagulat kami lahat that it has reached this point. Hindi ko ikakalila, dalawang taon na kami lumalaban sa iba’t ibang epidemya, nagkasunod-sunod, we had measles, dengue, polio, volcanic eruption and now this pandemic. Iyong pakiramdam ng mga empleyado ng DOH, may effect na nakukuwestiyon everything we are doing right now,” Vergeire said. 

“But whatever is there, we continue working. This is our mandate,” she added. — RSJ, GMA News