Duque committed ‘grave sin’ by bungling purchase of ICU equipment? Recto wants to know

Published April 28, 2021, 10:53 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto is calling for a review of the Department of Health’s (DOH) spending to look into whether or not it actually used the funds appropriated for the purchase of intensive care unit (ICU) equipment.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega inspect a new isolation facility at the Eva Macapagal Terminal in Port Area, Manila on April 26, 2021. The quarantine facility is expected to accommodate mild to asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. (MANILA BULLETIN/Ali Vicoy)

Recto issued the appeal on Wednesday, April 28, following reports that the DOH “bungled” the acquisition of 200 ICU beds offered by an Austrian company late last year.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III denied this, reportedly saying that refusing such an offer would be a “grave sin”. Malacañang had also said that the government is still in talks with the same firm for the procurement of ICU beds.

Since the pandemic started last year, the number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Philippines has already exceeded one million on Monday, April 26.

“In any war, we should always look at the logistics. For the frontlines to keep on fighting, the supply lines must keep on running,” Recto said in a statement.

The Senate leader said the increase in the number of COVID-19 dedicated mechanical ventilators in private and public hospitals from 1,446 units in May, 2020 to 2,601 units this month “does not seem to be commensurate with the need.”

He cited a report from the DOH stating a nationwide total of 2,521 ICU units allocated for COVID-19 patients.

“Isa pa, hindi natin alam kung ilan ang ambag ng government hospitals. May nagsabi na karamihan ay alokasyon ng mga pribadong ospital (One more thing, we do not know the contribution of our government hospitals. Some said that most of the allocation came from private hospitals),” Recto noted.

“The data should be unbundled so we will know the inventory in government hospitals. Dito dumadagsa ang mga mahihirap, kaya dapat alam natin kung sapat ba ang kanilang mga (Public hospitals are where our indigent population go, that’s why we have to know if they have adequate) ICU units, ventilators, high-flow oxygen therapy machines,” he pointed out.

“When public hospitals start posting ‘No admission for COVID patients’ signs, then we know the answer,” the lawmaker said.

Recto said the DOH had a total capital outlays (CO) budget, or funds for equipment and buildings, of P29 billion for 2019 and 2020.

For this year, P14.7 billion was appropriated by Congress, he noted.

The senator said the amounts do not include allocations for four Quezon City-based hospitals, which were classified as government corporations and whose annual operating budgets are not included in the DOH budget.

“Hindi pa kasama dito ang mga augmentations at realignments na pinahintulutan ng Bayanihan Act 1 and 2 (Augmentations and realignments allowed under Bayanihan 1 and 2 are also not included),” Recto also stressed.

He said that for instance, part of the DOH’s P35.51-billion share from the appropriations in the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” or Bayanihan 2 was for the procurement of P3 billion worth of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Some P4.5 billion was also set aside for the construction of temporary medical isolation facilities and field hospitals, he added.

Recto said the Senate should begin its “mandatory review” of Department of Health (DOH) spending to find out if funds meant “for ventilators, ICU equipment were indeed utilized.”

“Again, in the case of wards, we have to identify where these are. Our interest is knowing if the DOH has been able to mount a build-up of resources over the past 13 months,” he appealed.