Act on COA report on mismanaged COVID-19 funds, Sotto tells authorities

Published August 13, 2021, 3:41 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Commission on Audit’s (COA) observations on the Department of Health’s (DOH) disbursement of COVID-19 funds should prompt the “right people” to act, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Friday, August 13.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III delivers a speech in the opening of the third regular session of the upper chamber on July 26, 2021. (Senate PRIB)

Sotto expressed apparent frustration over the latest findings of the COA on the deficiencies of the DOH in managing over P67.3 billion of COVID-19 response funds last year.

“The Senate already sounded like a broken record on these allegations. It’s COA talking now, then perhaps the right people will listen,” the Senate chief said in a text message sent to reporters.

The Sotto-led Senate Committee of the Whole has been looking into issues in the government’s COVID-19 response. Several senators have expressed their dissatisfaction, flagging alleged corruption, anomalies and inefficiencies of the DOH in handling the pandemic.

In April last year, a majority of the chamber’s members even called for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s resignation. They also recommended the filing of charges against Duque, among other officials, for the questionable reimbursements of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Grace Poe called for another inquiry to grill the DOH about its utilization of COVID-19 funds.

While Sotto waits for a go-signal from his colleagues to start the probe, Sen. Richard Gordon announced on Friday that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will conduct next week a hearing on the COA’s report on the DOH.

“Bubuksan ko ‘yon Blue Ribbon (I will open the Blue Ribbon hearing) on Wednesday, just to ask the Department of Health why they cannot spend the P[67] billion that was given to them,” said Gordon, committee chairman, during an online forum on Friday.

“I do not want to fix the blame, I just want to fix the problem. And to make sure that we do that, they have to answer our countrymen on why we’re not able to do what we’re supposed to do,” he added.