Senate of the Philippines

Poe: Shouldn’t Ombudsman suspend Duque by now?

Lian Buan
Poe: Shouldn’t Ombudsman suspend Duque by now?

SUSPENSION. Senator Grace Poe calls on the Ombudsman to treat Health Secretary Francisco Duque in the same way PhilHealth executives were treated.

Photo from Office of Senator Grace Poe

'Shouldnt Secretary Duque be suspended by now if we're going to apply the same judgment in the Philhealth executives?' says Senator Grace Poe

Senator Grace Poe said on Wednesday, August 18, that the Office of the Ombudsman should have already suspended Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, even just preventively.

“Shouldn’t Secretary Duque be suspended by now if we’re going to apply the same judgment in the Philhealth executives?” Poe asked on Wednesday during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing on the audit report of the Department of Health (DOH) that showed a total P67 billion pandemic funds that were deficiently used.

Poe cited Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ resolution in October 2020 imposing six-month preventive suspensions on eight Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) executives who were facing a graft complaint over the alleged misappropriation of P2 billion in Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds. The IRM funds were also flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) report.

Apart from the Philhealth executives, Martires also imposed 6-month preventive suspensions on five Department of Health (DOH) officials over the supposed delay in releasing benefits to health workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The audit report said the DOH did not obligate P11 billion worth of hazard pay and special risk allowance for frontliners for 2020. It’s one of the highlights of the scathing report by COA.

“When asked whether this probe would affect the morale of the health department during the pandemic, the Ombudsman refused to budge and instead raised the question for us: are we not as a people also suffering from low morale?” said Poe.

Poe recalled Martires as having said: “The fact that we can’t even go out of our homes, are we happy with what’s happening, are the medical frontliners happy with what’s happening to them, somebody must be held accountable.”

Poe said given that same principle, shouldn’t Duque be treated similarly?

“Today, we take it further, and raise the questions, which still haven’t been answered despite numerous probes in the past – shouldn’t Secretary Duque be suspended by now?” said Poe.

Not negligence, but criminal – Poe

Poe said non-obligation of P11 billion for hazard pay for frontliners is criminal.

“Ito po ay hindi lamang kapabayaan, sabi nga ng isa, ito po ay kriminal (this is not just negligence, it’s criminal),” said Poe.

Opposition senator Franklin Drilon said the same.

“Is it criminal to underspend in the face of a pandemic? Ilan po ba ang mabibiling oxygen tank sa halagang P24 bilyon? Ilang frontliners po ba ang mabibigyan ng umento sa kanilang special risk allowance? Ilang PPEs at test kits po ba ang mabibili natin sa P24 bilyon?” 

(How many oxygen tanks could we have bought with P24 billion, how many frontliners could have gotten their special risk allowance? How many personal protective equipment and test kits could we have bought with P24 billion?)

The Ombudsman has the power to impose preventive suspensions as a preliminary resolution for investigations. Its purpose is to keep the person for unduly influencing potential witnesses within the agency. The Ombudsman also has the power to make an administrative finding of guilt, with suspension and dismissal as penalties.

This is separate from a finding of probable cause to file a criminal charge in court.

At the very least, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Martires should open an investigation now on the audit. Martires earlier said he would rather wait for the audit process to end. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.