Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri on Tuesday defended the Commission on Audit (COA) after President Duterte told his Cabinet to ignore the state auditors’ report after flagging the deficiencies in the Department of Health’s (DOH) handling of the P67-billion worth of COVID-19 funds.
“With due respect, the COA is a tool, a guide for government and the implementers of the law to see if the government agencies are doing well or not,” Zubiri said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
“They are the state auditors, the check and balance of government expenditure. We have to respect what they say,” said the senator who is a member of the Senate majority bloc.
Zubiri pointed out lawmakers turn to COA’s audit reports to evaluate the implementation of key state-funded programs and check whether there is corruption or negligence done in the disbursement of government funds.
“COA plays a very important role in good governance in any administration…when they come out, it guides us, particularly on budget deliberations on how we can wisely spend the funds on these particular agencies on their deficiencies of expenditure of their programs, the spending of the money of the programs,” he pointed out.
For his part, Zubiri said he is frustrated that billions of funds that Congress had appropriated for use in the government’s COVID-19 response would only be returned to the national treasury.
“That is our (lawmakers) frustration. That’s why when it is returned to the national government, that means it was inefficiently utilized, the funds were inefficiently utilized. In a way we are talking of inefficiency of government service,” he said.
Zubiri said he agrees that “heads should roll” over these alleged deficiencies flagged by COA.
“If the department heads are telling lies to the Health Secretary, then I am giving the secretary the benefit of the doubt,” he said referring to DOH chief Francisco Duque III.
“Somebody has to get the blame for this mess, particularly on the special risk allowance (for healthcare workers)…heads have to roll, particularly on the non-release of these funds,” he said.
He further said Duque should use the congressional inquiry as a chance to redeem himself from allegations of corruption and inefficiencies. The Senate blue ribbon committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, will start its own inquiry into the COA’s 2020 report on the DOH’s COVID-19 response fund on Wednesday, Aug. 18.
“He should redeem himself by producing documents to refute the report. He should explain clearly why there was mismanagement in the fund transfers,” Zubiri said in a separate interview via Zoom.
Zubiri pointed out that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already obligated a total of P9-billion last June 23, 2021, specifically to cover for the special risk allowance of public and private healthcare workers.
“The government hospitals have already been given their share of the SRAs, but with the private hospitals there’s none. And to think this is the bulk of the share. We have more private hospitals than government hospitals, and they are doing their fair share in the COVID-19 response,” he pointed out.