Health Secretary Francisco Duque III got emotional as he hit the Commission on Audit (COA) for supposedly destroying the reputation of the Department of Health (DOH) due to findings about misused and unused P67 billion worth of funds intended for the pandemic response.
In a hearing conducted virtually by the House committee on public accounts on Tuesday, August 17, Duque said he had been "sleepless" since the COA's report on the agency invited public scrutiny and condemnation.
"Mula noong Wednesday (August 11) na lumabas po ito, hindi na po ako nakakatulog. Ang mga kasama kong mga opisyal sa DOH, hindi na rin halos nakakatulog. Bakit, 'ka ninyo? Sa kahihiyan. We were bloodied and bludgeoned with this issue," Duque said.
(Since Wednesday, when this report came out, I haven't been able to sleep. My colleagues at the DOH have barely slept. Why, you ask? Because we were shamed, we were bloodied and bludgeoned with this issue.)
Duque said the criticism his agency had been receiving was "unfair and unjust,' especially since they were supposedly not given the full 60 days to submit their rejoinder.
"COA should also consider that we're not operating under normal circumstances, we’re operating under a state of public health emergency," he said.
"Winarak na ninyo kami eh. Winarak na ninyo ang dangal ng DOH. Winarak ninyo ang lahat ng mga kasama ko dito," Duque added, his voice breaking.
(You've destroyed us. You've destroyed the honor of the DOH. You destroyed all my colleagues here.)
The 60 days Duque mentioned refers to the time given to an agency to report back to COA if they have implemented the recommendations made in the audit report. But this is done as followup to annual audits conducted by the end of a fiscal year and already prepared by June 30 of the succeeding year.
COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo refuted the claim that the DOH wasn't given due process. He explained during the hearing that, before the audit report was transmitted to the DOH and published on the website, resident auditors conducted several meetings and an exit conference with DOH officials.
The DOH, however, failed to submit all the needed documents to COA.
"We do have an obligation to report what transpired with respect to their budget allocation," Aguinaldo said.
"So it’s not correct at all to say that there's no due process," he added, noting that COA didn't release adverse audit findings to the media.
"We understand fully well the concerns of the DOH. We still have the duty to ensure that funds are well accounted for. Wala naman kaming finding na walang nawalang pera (We don't have any findings that funds were lost)," Aguinaldo explained.
More than a year into the pandemic, the Philippines is still struggling to contain the deadly virus that has so far infected 1.6 million and killed over 29,000. The government has been criticized for its slow response to the health crisis.