Philippine Auditor Reports ‘Deficiencies’ in COVID Funds at Health Dept

Marielle Lucenio
Philippine Auditor Reports ‘Deficiencies’ in COVID Funds at Health Dept A health worker performs a COVID-19 swab test on a patient at a drive-thru testing facility in Manila, Aug. 6, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the health department on Thursday to respond to an audit report that flagged the agency for “deficiencies” involving funds for combatting COVID-19.

The Commission on Audit, in its 2020 audit of the Department of Health released Wednesday, pointed to deficiencies linked with billions in Philippines pesos earmarked for the nation’s battle against the pandemic. The commission (COA) is an independent body established under the Philippine constitution.

“Various deficiencies involving some [67.32 billion pesos (U.S. $1.33 billion)] worth of public funds and intended for national efforts of combatting the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 crisis were noted,” the commission said in is audit report.

“These deficiencies contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DOH during the state of calamity/national emergency, and casted doubts on the regularity of related transactions.”  

The audit did not specify what the “deficiencies” were.

“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose,” Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate Public Services Committee, said in a resolution she filed on Thursday to launch an inquiry into the health department’s funds. “Inefficiencies in the midst of a health crisis make our people bear the brunt.”

“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed,” she said.

The commission published its report as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III faced criticism over alleged irregularities tied to his department’s handling of the pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte would withhold judgment until Duque officially replies to the audit and the audit commission issues its final report.

“[T]he instruction of the president is for DOH to carefully answer the observation of the COA,” Roque told reporters on Thursday.

The commission “is a constitutional body whose job is really to safeguard government funds,” he said. “There are no sacred cows in this administration.”

On Wednesday, Duque said his agency would officially reply to auditors in due time.

“The 67.3 billion pesos are accounted for,” he said in a statement. “No monies were lost to corruption and these funds were earmarked for our fellow citizens.”

“We take our COA findings very seriously and have been working to further improve our processes and controls so that we can serve the public most effectively especially during this pandemic,” Duque said.

In June, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the former president of Duterte’s political party who is considering a presidential run next year, publicly accused Duque of anomalies in acquiring medical equipment including rapid-test kits, masks and personal protective equipment to fight the coronavirus.

At least three other senators have called for an investigation into the health department.

On Thursday, the agency reported more than 12,400 coronavirus infections and 165 deaths, pushing cumulative infections past 1.7 million and deaths to more than 29,500 since the pandemic began.

Luis Liwanag and Basilio Sepe in Manila and Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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