COA report proves DOH 'chokepoints, incompetence' in handling pandemic — senators

Published August 11, 2021, 4:33 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

For some senators, the latest report of the Commission on Audit (COA) on the Department of Health’s (DOH) supposed deficiencies in handling some ₱67.3-billion COVID-19 response funds bolsters their observations on how well the agency is managing the pandemic.

Senator Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines)

Senator Joel Villanueva on Wednesday, August 11, likened the COA report to an “MRI scan” of how the DOH is spending the funds given to the department to address the coronavirus outbreak.

“Nagsilbi po itong diagnostic tool at kitang-kita kung saan ang bara sa DOH (This served as a diagnostic tool and it clearly show the where the chokepoints in the DOH are),” Villanueva told Senate reporters in a message when asked to comment on the COA’s observations.

“If DOH were a patient, problematic spending appears to be one of its comorbidities,” he added.

In its 2020 report for the DOH released Wednesday, the COA flagged “various deficiencies” in the management of some ₱67.323 billion intended for COVID-19 response. State auditors said the deficiencies “contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities” by the agency amid the health crisis.

It also noted billions of pesos that were not obligated and disbursed by the DOH before year-end.

“It can, thus, be said that these funds that remained idle were not translated to much needed health supplies, equipment, and services that could have benefitted both the health workers and the general public during the critical times of the pandemic,” the COA observed.

Villanueva said he found “most disheartening” the delay in the procurement and delivery of mechanical ventilators for coronavirus patients.

“When procurement is choked by inefficiencies, a COVID[-19] patient struggling to breathe dies down the line,” he said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said: “They (state auditors) are simply confirming what we in the Senate have been saying all along. That incompetence and corruption in the COVID[-19] response has led to our being the worst performer in the Western Pacific Region.”

“From dropping the ball on the US vaccines earlier lobbied by [Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro] Locsin and Ambassador Babes Romualdez, to unrecognized Ph[ilippine] vaccination cards in Hong Kong, and now, the still unused ₱67.3 billion while health workers are crying to get their ₱5,000 Special Risk Allowance, it’s incompetence, incompetence and incompetence,” Senator Panfilo Lacson also said.

In April last year, at least 14 senators signed a resolution that calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for his “faiure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency” in handling the COVID-19 crisis.

The Senate also adopted a resolution that recommends the filing of malversation, graft and other criminal cases against Duque and other health officials as its members were convinced of the alleged corruption of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) reimbursements to hospitals.

Despite criticisms, President Duterte kept Duque in his Cabinet.