Gordon gets Duque to admit there's corruption in DOH

Senator Richard Gordon was able to get Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to admit that there is corruption in the Department of Health (DOH), after Gordon threatened to block the agency’s budget during the Senate’s plenary debates past midnight on Thursday, November 19.

Gordon, also the chairperson of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), raised the issue of a botched P3.5-billion project to build over 3,000 barangay health stations in 2016. The DOH is still embroiled in a lawsuit with the contractor, JBros Construction Corporation.

Duque first drew public attention to the issue in 2018, after JBros terminated the contract and billed the DOH P2.9 billion after having built only 270 barangay health stations. Duque blamed the matter on “very defective planning” by his predecessor, Janette Garin, now an Iloilo congresswoman.

“I am shocked. I am chagrined,” Gordon exclaimed as Senator Pia Cayetano defended the DOH’s proposed 2021 budget.

“This is really swindling the country,” he added, and asked to know what Duque and the rest of the agency have been doing to recover the money.

Gordon, as PRC head, was in an odd scenario with Duque who, as health chief, heads the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). PhilHealth owes the PRC a huge amount for outsourced COVID-19 testing, at one point amounting to P1.1 billion.

President Rodrigo Duterte has consistently backed Duque despite allegations of corruption and mismanagement of PhilHealth, and recently called the PRC “mukhang pera" (greedy) for demanding payment of PhilHealth’s debt.

Gordon took exception to Duterte’s remark, pointing out that it was the government that enlisted the PRC’s help.

Meanwhile, Duque has gotten flak from the Senate as a whole. Following a legislative probe into alleged corruption in PhilHealth, the Senate recommended graft and malversation lawsuits against the health chief for, at the very least, his negligence that left room for malfeasance within the state insurer.

“Do you agree that there was corruption here?” Gordon asked Duque through Cayetano. During budget debates at the Senate, all statements and responses from government officials are coursed through the senator sponsoring their agencies’ budgets.

“There was corruption? I want that on the record stated by the Department of Health,” Gordon insisted.

“It’s under investigation, although it’s possible,” Cayetano replied. Duque was sitting behind her, giving his responses to Gordon’s questions.

“I’m sorry, I cannot accept that answer, and I am tempted now to stop the budget of the Department of Health if they themselves cannot admit that they’ve been hoodwinked, especially since the Secretary of Health has already said that this was a badly planned exercise and that money was lost by the government,” Gordon warned.

If Gordon blocked the DOH budget, it would entail another round of debates, and further requirements from the DOH.

“This question is simple: Do they agree that there is corruption as a department?” Gordon went on.

Duque leaned over to Cayetano, who then conveyed the health secretary’s response.

“The answer is ‘yes.’ The Secretary is responding behind me and he said, ‘Yes,’” Cayetano said.

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to hear,” Gordon said. He urged Duque to bring up the barangay health stations issue with the President and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

With no further opposition from the senators, the DOH’s proposed 2021 budget was deemed submitted. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.