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DOH vouches for integrity of suspended officials linked in Pharmally mess

The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday vouched for the integrity of nine of its officials who were ordered a six-month suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman after being involved in the allegedly anomalous procurement of COVID-19 supplies in 2020 and 2021.

While it respects the decision of the Ombudsman, DOH maintained that the officials “played significant roles” in the pandemic response of the government.

“These officials have been with the agency for decades, and we continue to recognize their service, sacrifice, and commitment to the Filipino people. While we commit to religiously comply with all procedures, the DOH vouches for the integrity of these officials, who have played significant roles in the country’s COVID-19 response,” the agency said in a statement.

The DOH officials covered by the suspension were Nestor Santiago, Jr., Crispinita Valdez, Amado Tandoc, Lei Lanna Dancel, Dave Tangcalagan, Jhobert Bernal, Kenneth Aristotle Punzalan, Rose Marasigan, and Maria Carmela Reyes.

Along with them are 24 others from the Department of Budget and Management - Procurement Service (PS-DBM), including Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong and former DBM Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao.

According to the Ombudsman, the charges against these personalities "involve grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service."

For its part, the DOH stressed that its role, along with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), was only limited to providing technical input as end-users in the procurement of commodities for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency, however, committed to cooperate in the investigation and to uphold all due processes mandated by the Office of the Ombudsman and the government.

It also pointed out that the preventive suspension is only a procedure legally done to ease the probe without the influence of the individuals in question, and “not a penalty imposed on the officials.”

“We ask the public to reserve judgment and keep an open mind until the investigation is being resolved,” DOH said.

PS-DBM executive director Dennis Santiago, on the other hand, said that it will comply with the Ombudsman’s order, emphasizing that it has “zero tolerance” for any form of corruption.

“We join the Office of the Ombudsman in its quest for truth and upholding public trust. Rest assured that we shall implement the Order within the specified time frame,” he said.

“Under the current leadership, the PS-DBM shall continue to implement and institute crucial procurement and administrative reforms, while implementing zero tolerance on irregularities and any form of corruption,” he added.

The camp of Liong earlier questioned the suspension, saying that although he was the procurement group director at the time of the procurement, he was not involved in the transaction.

In 2021, then-Senator Richard Gordon, as blue ribbon committee chair, led the inquiry into the transfer of P42 billion COVID-19 funds from the DOH to PS-DBM.

This included the P8.6 billion PS-DBM used for purchasing face masks, face shields, and personal protective equipment (PPEs) from Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., which only had P625,000 in paid-up capital when it entered into government transactions. —VAL, GMA Integrated News