Department of Health

Still no corruption probe yet in DOH’s poor use of COVID-19 funds

Lian Buan
Still no corruption probe yet in DOH’s poor use of COVID-19 funds

Iloilo City vaccination roll out of 2nd dose of Sinovac at Robinson Mall in Jaro District. Photo courtesy of ARNOLD ALMACEN/Iloilo City Mayor's Office

Iloilo City mayor's office

Both the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman will not open their own investigations – which they can do - as they let COA process run its course

There will be no corruption investigation yet by either the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman in the audit report of the Department of Health (DOH) that showed poor use of P67 Billion worth of COVID-19 funds.

Both agencies are taking a conservative stance and letting the Commission on Audit (COA) process run its course, even though both offices have the power to open an investigation motu proprio or on its own.

“Like any other agency, it will be given a reasonable chance to comply with or abide by the recommendations of the COA,” said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the lead of an anti-corruption task force as assigned by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Office of the Ombudsman will await the completion of the auditing process as the agency is given the opportunity to ensure full implementation of all audit recommendations to improve the financial and operational efficiency of the DOH,” said Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

Audit process

In the COA process, auditors recommend a list of actions, but there is no guarantee of full compliance as some government agencies tend to ignore the recommendations.

The most that COA can do is issue notices of disallowance, suspension or charges. But even these are appealable, and remain unenforced over the years.

In the audit report, the DOH was shown to have spent P42.4 billion for COVID-19 programs but these had no supporting documents.

“Thus, [it] poses questions on regularity of transactions and the lack of details on the implementation of agreed procurement and/or program implementation,” said COA.

DOH also had P11.89 billion unobligated funds at yearend of 2020, raising public ire on the available funds the government could have spent in responding to the pandemic.

COA said the deficient use of funds led to “missed opportunities” at a time of a national emergency.

Passive

Duterte’s task force against corruption was envisioned to have a more proactive approach, but Guevarra said they would only step in “in case of unjustified failure to comply or render an acceptable explanation.”

Guevarra said the DOH would potentially be one of the “hotspot” agencies which would have an assigned resident ombudsman and prosecutor, to implement the vision of the task force to more effectively and quickly spot corruption.

But this agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman and COA is yet to be signed, the delay due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“We’ll get there soon,” said Guevarra.

In 2017, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales signed an agreement with COA to create a joint investigating team (JIT) which would automatically investigate closely-related transactions involving a minimum amount of P100 million.

The Office of the Ombudsman could also jump-start an automatic fact-finding inquiry.

But Martires said it was better to wait for the audit process to end.

“To await the finalization and completion of the auditing process avoids a repeat of having to withdraw cases already filed in court based on preliminary audit findings similar to the events that transpired in the Echiverri cases in 2018,” said Martires, referring to the multiple cases filed against former Caloocan City Mayor Recom Echiverri.

Echiverri was charged of multiple counts of corruption over different projects in Caloocan, but he has scored several wins at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

Guevarra said “trigger amounts” will be dependent on the agency.

“Specific provisions such as on trigger amounts will be spelled out in separate agreements with the agencies where resident ombudsmen will be assigned,” said Guevarra.

Duque and Duterte

Malacañang had also taken the same passive stance, saying that Duterte is “withholding judgment” until the COA process is done.

Senators have earlier called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III over the department’s handling of the pandemic, but Duterte himself had refused to fire him.

“[Duque] only cares about his boss, the President who, for reasons only they probably know cannot and will not remove him from office in spite of repeated calls from the majority of senators and other sectors,” said Senator Panfilo Lacson.

“Sadly, the issues brought to light by the Commission on Audit report, among others, shows that he doesn’t care about the health concerns of the people who he is supposed to serve,” Lacson added. – Rappler.com