Filtered By: Topstories

Duque to appeal graft raps over purchase of COVID-19 supplies

Former health secretary Francisco Duque III is set to file a motion for reconsideration regarding the Ombudsman's order to file graft charges against him and former budget undersecretary Christopher Lao over the alleged irregular transfer of over P41 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 supplies.

"The immediate step is to file our motion for reconsideration. Probably Monday or Tuesday," Duque told GMA News Online in a phone interview on Saturday.

Duque, who then chaired the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said he and other officials used the "whole of government approach" to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Bilang Secretary of Health, hindi naman puwede na 'yung panahon ko, gagamitin ko sa paghahanap ng local suppliers. Ang nai-report sa akin ng mga tao ko, talagang wala. Wala makakapagbigay ng ganoon volumes [ng personal protective equipment, or PPEs]," he said.

(As Secretary of Health, it would not be possible to use my time to look for local suppliers. My subordinates would report to me that no one could provide PPEs in those volumes.)

"'Yung whole of government approach, ipinasa natin sa PS-DBM," added Duque, referring to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Mangement which Lao headed.

(The whole of government approach was passed to the PS-DBM.)

Duque cited the Republic Act 9184, the Bayanihan Law 1 and 2, the General Appropriations Act, and Executive Order 359 mandating the PS-DBM to procure common-use supplies and equipment (CSE) for national government agencies.

"Meron kaming agency procurement request, properly receipted ang mga pondo na ibinababa... ng DOH to PS-DBM, at saka mga allocation list. Kumpleto 'yan. Tapos 'yung constant coordination meeting ng PS-DBM at saka ng DOH. So, lahat may legal basis ang pag-transfer ng funds," he said.

(We had an agency procurement request, with the funds properly receipted... by the DOH and PS-DBM, and allocation lists. These are complete. We also had constant coordination meetings with PS-DBM and the DOH. So, there was legal basis for the transfer of funds.)

Duque said steps were taken to avert a health crisis amid the pandemic.

"Hindi naman puwedeng ang healthcare workers, kapag pinabayaan mo 'yan, mag-aantay tayo ng local supplier, eh lalong maraming mamamatay. Hindi natin kakayanin 'yon. Magko-collapse ang healthcare system ng Pilipinas," he said.

(It's not possible for us to be remiss in ensuring the safety of healthcare workers by waiting for local suppliers. Many more of them would have died. The Philippines' healthcare system would've collapsed.)

Fund transfer

In a 49-page resolution dated May 6 and released on Friday, the Ombudsman said it was unlawful for the DOH to transfer P41 billion to the PS-DBM.

It said that the PS-DBM was only allowed to buy CSE, a category that did not apply to the COVID-19 pandemic supplies bought with the P41-billion allocation.

The Ombudsman cited the 2020 General Appropriations Act which defined CSE as those included in the Electronic Catalogue of the PS-DBM and those which will be regularly updated to include all items commonly procured by agencies of the government.

The DOH's decision to transfer the P41 billion fund to Lao's unit for the purchase of COVID-19 supplies, the Ombudsman said, did not hasten the procurement process of the much-needed items.

The Ombudsman said the more simplified process of procurement was for DOH, which had the money, to buy directly from the suppliers of COVID-19 supplies and equipment.

Amid a health emergency

In a separate decision on the administrative complaint against them, the Ombudsman also found Duque and Lao guilty of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the service.

The Ombudsman said their actions "caused the DOH to abandon, in times of health emergency, its bolden duty to expeditiously acquire the needed COVID-10 goods through direct negotiation with the suppliers."

It also cited that the transfer of funds "caused the consequent imposition of service fee" that could have been spent on other medical needs.

Duque told GMA News Online that his appeal would include the Ombudsman's decision on the administrative case.

In the same decisions, the Ombudsman dismissed the criminal and administrative complaints in connection with the same information against Ma. Carolina V. Taiño, Myrna C. Cabotaje, Roger Tong-an. Leopoldo Vega, Napoleon Arevalo, Enrique Tayag, Filpina Velasquez, Lorica Rabago, and Crispinita Valdez.

To act accordingly

Meanwhile, the DOH said it respected the Ombudsman's decision to file graft charges against Duque, its former secretary.

"The DOH respects all legal proceedings and will act accordingly," said DOH spokesperson Albert Domingo on Saturday.

For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros welcomed the Ombudsman's decision, which came three years since the Blue Ribbon Committee held marathon hearings on the allegedly anomalous medical supplies procurement.

"I would like to thank the Ombudsman for faithfully fulfilling its mandate to seek justice, especially in cases involving misappropriation of public funds and anomalies in procurement," said Hontiveros in a statement.

The senator added that the latest development also served as a "victory" for the public who were betrayed during the health crisis.

"Ito ay para sa mga mamamayang naghirap at nagkasya lang sa limitadong ayuda noong pandemya, lalo't higit sa mga healthcare workers na nagtiis sa delayed na special allowance at hazard pay habang nagkakamal ng bilyung-bilyong piso ang mga pinaborang kompanya gaya ng Pharmally," Hontiveros added.

(This is for the people who had to survive with limited assistance during the pandemic. This is also special to the healthcare workers who had to endure the delayed special allowance and hazard pay while billions of pesos were used to favor a company like Pharmally.)

The Ombudsman's investigation on Duque and Lao stemmed from the complaint filed by Hontiveros and former Senator Richard  Gordon, and a Commission on Audit report in 2020. — VDV, GMA Integrated News