Commission on Audit

COA flags Duterte-era DILG for P577 million unspent COVID-19 funds

Dwight de Leon
COA flags Duterte-era DILG for P577 million unspent COVID-19 funds

Nico Villarete/Rappler

A significant portion of the unutilized funds was the salaries intended for COVID-19 contact tracers

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) of the Duterte administration failed to fully utilize the P4.038 billion it received for COVID-19 response, the Commission on Audit (COA) said.

The COA’s annual report for the DILG in 2021 said the agency utilized only P3.46 billion, or 85.71% of the total pandemic-related expenditures.

“The unobligated balance of P577.053 million or 14.29% of the allotments was reverted to the unappropriated surplus of the General Fund,” the report read.

The sources of funding were the 2021 national budget, and the continuing appropriations under Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

The audit report said that out of the P444.574-million budget that remained in the DILG’s central office, some P343.166 million worth of unspent funds were supposed to be the salaries of coronavirus contact tracers.

Based on the report, the DILG explained to state auditors that the allotted funds were not tapped due to the following reasons:

  1. It did not hire additional administrative staff to help in contact tracing operations, and instead “utilized the current personnel complement to assist in day-to-day operations.”
  2. The central office did not release payment for contact tracers in full since some contact tracers belatedly submitted documents, while others were hired in between the six-month period.
  3. The DILG was unable to release funds immediately to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao due to the “latter’s failure to immediately liquidate the previous year’s fund transfer.”

In his first press briefing as new interior secretary on Monday, July 4, Eduardo Año’s successor Benhur Abalos said he has been informed about the COA report, and will have it “checked.”

COA flags Duterte-era DILG for P577 million unspent COVID-19 funds

In 2021, then-president Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque and then-COVID-19 contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong both admitted that contact tracing was the weakest aspect of the Philippines’ pandemic response.

The government, at the time, had struggled to meet its target contact tracing efficiency ratio. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers the House of Representatives and the Commission on Elections for Rappler. Previously, he wrote stories on local government units.