Press Release
August 16, 2021

Drilon: Duque not yet off the hook over poor management of COVID-19 funds

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is not yet off the hook over what the Commission of Audit (COA) found as deficiencies in the management of COVID-19 funds.

"The COA said that the audit findings are not conclusive of corruption, but that does not take Sec Duque off the hook. The COA findings clearly show the dismal inefficiencies and lack of sense of urgency demonstrating poor management and leadership," Drilon said in an interview on Monday.

Drilon said this as the Senate Blue Ribbon is expected to tackle the COA's audit of the DOH management of COVID-19 responses funds on Wednesday. He added that during the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, the Senate will look into the possible liabilities of Sec. Duque.

However, Drilon said there is nothing that can compel the President to dismiss Duque amid the COA findings.

"These are decisions that a political leader would have to answer when election time comes. But you cannot compel the President to dismiss a cabinet member, notwithstanding the call of everyone, because that is the nature of our system," Drilon said. Last year, the Senate passed a resolution calling for the resignation of Duque for his "failure of leadership, negligence and inefficiency in performance."

In its report that, the COA said "the billions of pesos in the coffers of the DOH that have remained not obligated and disbursed as at year-end is counter-beneficial to the Department's continuing efforts towards controlling the spread of COVID-19 through provision of quality health services. It can, thus, be said that these funds that remained idle as at year-end were not translated to much-needed health supplies, equipment and services that could have benefited both the health workers and the general public during the critical times of the pandemic."

Drilon pointed out that the COA explicitly called on DOH to "act with urgency and efficiency in the utilization of COVID-19 funds."

"This latest COA findings only affirmed the fact there appears to be no sense of urgency on the part of DOH and Sec. Duque," Drilon said.

"Today, we are seeing a very critical situation. We have a healthcare system that is very fragile. Our health system is already on the verge of collapsing. I hope it does not collapse but the signs are there," Drilon warned.

He cited as examples of a weakening healthcare system: the long queue of patients in the hospital sidewalks and parking lots, insufficient supply of ventilators, and hospital beds nearing their maximum capacity.

Citing a DOH report in 2019, Drilon said that even before the pandemic, already 3 out of 4 DOH-run hospitals have a bed occupancy rate which is more than what is prescribed by the World Health Organization. He added that the pandemic made it even worse.

Drilon pointed to two key COA findings: the P24.64 billion unobligated funds and the undocumented transfer of a whopping P42 billion fund to "procurement partners."

"What is more worrisome in the COA report is the huge unobligated allotments totaling P24.64 billion," Drilon said.

Most of the unobligated funds come from the Bayanihan 1 and 2 funds for health-related responses such as the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and Active Hazard Duty Pay (AHDP), procurement of RT PCR, continued hiring of emergency workers, salaries and other personnel benefits of deployed HRH personnel, etc.

He is specifically alarmed by DOH's failure to release immediately the special risk allowance of healthcare workers.

"This is an example of gross negligence. It's infuriating that our frontliners have not received what the Congress appropriated for them. There is a budget; the money has been released to DOH. It clearly shows that there is mismanagement. This goes into the management ability of the DOH insofar as the management of pandemic is concerned," Drilon said.

Drilon also questioned the billions transferred to procurement agencies such as the PS-DBM.

"To me, the transfer of P42 billion to procurement and implementing partner agencies without documentation is the most concerning item as it comprises the biggest chunk of the mismanaged P67 billion for COVID 19 programs," Drilon said in a statement.

"This should raise red flags as these are unaccounted or unliquidated transfers," said Drilon, adding that the COA said "these were not supported with complete documentary requirements contrary to law and regulations, and casted doubts on the validity, regularity and propriety of transactions."

The COA warned here that the delays in the delivery of the much-needed medical equipment/supplies/devices resulted in delays in the provision of quality health service, he noted.

"Who are these partner-agencies? For what specific purpose/s? How much of the P42 billion was obligated?" Drilon asked.

Drilon said that with the huge fund transfer to procurement agencies, it is highly possible that the unobligated funds can be bigger than the P24.6 billion as cited by COA.

Unless it has been shown that the funds transferred were obligated, Drilon said the funds should revert to the national treasury.

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