Duterte administration

Duterte gave green light to transfer P47.6-B pandemic funds to PS-DBM – Duque

Kaycee Valmonte

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Duterte gave green light to transfer P47.6-B pandemic funds to PS-DBM – Duque

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III while holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacañan Palace on March 9, 2020.

ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Former health chief Francisco Duque III tells the House appropriations panel that then-president Rodrigo Duterte announced the decision during one of the weekly televised meetings with his Cabinet

MANILA, Philippines – It was former president Rodrigo Duterte who authorized the Department of Health (DOH) to transfer billions worth of pandemic funds to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to procure supplies on the department’s behalf.

His former health chief, Francisco Duque III, told the House of Representatives committee on appropriations on Monday, June 3, that Duterte even announced the decision publicly during one of the weekly televised meetings with his Cabinet. Lawmakers are currently looking into the budgetary performance of the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) for the first three months of 2024 and how it performed in previous years.

Deputy Minority Leader France Castro questioned Duque on the department’s decision to transfer P47.6 billion to PS-DBM to procure pandemic supplies, even without a memorandum of agreement (MOA).

“‘Yung tanong ko, ‘yung P47 billion na ‘yan, para saan ‘yan at anu-ano ba ‘yung mga equipment? ‘Yan ba ay mask? ‘Yan ba ay COVID-19…kung ano man ‘yung mga pangangailangan…. Ang tanong ko ay kung saan ‘nyo gagamitin ‘yan o bakit ‘nyo ibinigay na ng buong-buo sa PS-DBM? Wala man lang kayong MOA, wala man lang kayong linagay na mga items na kailangan ninyo – ‘yung terms and conditions, etc? Kasi alam ko may mga standard ‘yan kahit na ‘yung mask, ‘yung face shield,” said Castro.

(My question is, the P47 billion, what is that for and what were the equipment needed? Is that for a mask? For whatever COVID-19 response needs…. My question is, where did you plan on spending that or why did you give all the funds to PS-DBM? You didn’t even have an MOA, you didn’t list the items you needed – the terms and conditions, etc? Shouldn’t the items have a required standard, even the mask, the face shield?)

Ito ay in-authorize ni former president Duterte, tama? (This was authorized by former president Duterte, right?)”

Duque then replied in the affirmative and said that “the transfer was done because of the public health emergency, which he declared sometime in March.”

Castro confirmed twice with Duque if it was really the ex-chief executive who authorized the transactions, and he said yes twice.

Duque also explained that the PS-DBM’s manual of procedures did not require them to prepare a MOA “for common-use supplies and equipment.” He said that he merely “followed” all the requirements of the PS-DBM and went with the directive of the former president.

Why this matters

The transfer allowed the government to secure dubious transactions. A 2020 Commission on Audit report flagged the DBM’s procurement of pandemic supplies – it was overpriced and was procured without the required documents from the DOH.

Among the private suppliers the PS-DBM bought their supplies from was Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., which was linked to Chinese businessman and Duterte’s former economic adviser, Michael Yang. The company was the biggest supplier of the government at the height of the pandemic, bagging deals worth P8.68 billion in 2020. (READ: Michael Yang, associates expand businesses under Duterte presidency)

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The Office of the Ombudsman is now after Duque and former PS-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, recommending that they be charged with a graft case. A May resolution notes that the DOH had “no legal obligation nor compelling reason” to transfer funds to the PS-DBM in the first place, since the country being in a state of national health emergency empowers the department to procure supplies on its own.

Duque on Monday said he already submitted a Motion for Reconsideration on the case and is awaiting the Ombudsman’s response.

Decision to protect

When Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin asked Duque on who have the instruction to go through with the transfer, Duque underscored that it was “within [his] authority to effect the fund transfer” because of the public health emergency.

Duque denied that he “unilaterally decided” to transfer P47.6 billion. “I’m just complying with the rule of the PS-DBM… I do not want to belabor the laws that authorize the PS-DBM to procure in a state of public health emergency materials,” he said.

However, Garin called out Duque for what she viewed as a former official dodging questions, saying: “‘Wag ‘nyo kaming paikut-ikutin…. Napakasimple ng tanong. It can be answerable by the name of the person or the name of the committee or kung ikaw ang nag-utos, wala namang problema…. I personally believe it’s legal to transfer based on some premises.”

(Don’t make us go around in circles…. The question is simple. It can be answerable by the name of the person or the name of the committee or if you were the one who ordered the transfer, then that’s not a problem…. I personally believe it’s legal to transfer based on some premises.)

Garin served as health secretary of the Benigno Aquino III administration.

Duque said the decision to push through and transfer billions of funds was based on the country’s interagency pandemic task force.

“I would like to reiterate that it is within my authority to effect the transfer because of the public health emergency where there were no enough CSEs (common use supplies and equipment), PPEs (personal protective equipment), and other COVID pandemic supplies and so we wanted to make sure that the lives of our people are protected and that the risks are mitigated from our people possibly then at the height of the pandemic that nobody knew about that would have resulted in millions of infection and countless deaths of our healthcare workers,” Duque said.

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