DOH uncovers billion peso irregularity in Barangay Health Station project – Duque

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Monday, June 18, the Department of Health (DOH) uncovered possibly "billions of pesos worth of irregularities" in the Barangay Health Stations (BHS) project.

Some P8.1 billion was earmarked for the BHS project, but Duque said there were no validated sites before construction started in 2016. To date, DOH has paid P1.2 billion to project contractor J-Bros Construction Corporation as payment for mobilization fees. 

Duque said the DOH created a task force to dig deeper into the BHS project due to “high level of suspicion” from reports on alleged anomalies in the project’s procurement process, incomplete documents, and the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA).

“I have initiated an investigation on alleged irregularities in the procurement and implementation of the school-based Barangay Health Stations Project. I tried to give the persons involved the benefit of the doubt,” Duque said.

The BHS project was implemented under then Health Secretary Janette Garin. Its goal was to establish 5,700 rural health units to ensure barangays have access to primary health care. Elementary schools were to be identified as sites for the health stations.

Duque said the DOH started its fact-finding committee after receiving a letter from J-Bros Construction in March 2018. In the letter, J-Bros Construction informed DOH of a termination of contract and a billing of about P2.9 billion.

The bill, he said, was for about 429 barangay health sites which the construction company claimed it had completed. 

However, the task force which was created in April 2018, found out that only about 270 barangay health stations were completed. Of these, only 8 had complete documents.

“Only around 8 units have documents," said Dr Roger Tong-an, undersecretary of the DOH Administration and Finance cluster. He added that the DOH was wtiholding the payment for all "270 initially completed (units)."

Duque said no payments have been released since he assumed office in 2017. 

Duque also said the task force’s findings were consistent with findings from the 2017 COA report on the DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program project. 

The COA report said the project “was obstructed by ineligible and non-workable project sites that were not fully validated before project contracting and implementation due to absence of specific guidelines.” 

Duque said he has requested the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the project. Documents were also sent to the Senate, House of Representatives, and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.

In addition to this, the DOH also asked COA to conduct a fraud audit report "so as to more definitively pinpoint the offices and officials responsible for entering into this very disadvantageous project," Duque said.

The health secretary said erring officials will face “appropriate legal action.”

“Heads will roll. Big names, small names, past and present. There will be no sacred cows,” Duque added.  – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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