Ubial accused of incompetence, corruption in confirmation hearing

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 17 2017 02:40 PM | Updated as of May 17 2017 03:31 PM

MANILA - Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial was questioned Wednesday on allegedly conflicting pronouncements she made on health issues, as she faced lawmakers for her confirmation to the post. 

Of the three oppositions submitted to the committee to block Ubial’s ad interim appointment, only Kabayan Partylist Rep. Harry Roque was able to present his case.

Ubial, accused by Roque of incompetence, persistent lying to congress, wastage of budget, and corruption, denied the allegations. 

Roque claimed Ubial had been inconsistent with her pronouncement on the situation of Zika in the Philippines--whether or not there were already reported cases in the country and whether or not it was endemic in the Philippines.

Roque also showed video clips of news reports where Ubial initially said the Philippines was Zika-free, only to be contradicted by her undersecretaries days after. He added, Ubial also initially said Zika cases were not native in the Philippines, but said three weeks later that it had actually been locally transmitted.

"Meron bang Zika? Hindi naman pupuwedeng ang sagot ng ating kalihim, meron at wala. Endemic ba ito? Hindi naman pupuwedeng ang sagot ng ating kalihim ay endemic at hindi endemic," he said.

Roque said Ubial's wrong prognosis on Zika being endemic affected the government's response to the virus. "Dapat ang emphasis natin, sa local government units, dapat maglinis ng kanilang kapaligiran, hindi bantayan ang airport."

He also said Ubial flip-flopped on the implementation of dengue vaccines, a project which she was supposedly part of as an assistant secretary.

"Sa issue ng dengue, ang issue, banta ba ito sa kalusugan? Hindi naman po pupwedeng sa dalawang posibleng sagot ay parehong kasagutan ni—oo, minsan ay hindi siya bansa; at minsan sasabihin niya ay banta. Tatlong beses na pong nag-flip-flop si Secretary Ubial, the latest is only this month," he said.

Roque claimed to have information that Ubial, already a secretary-designate, wanted to stop the implementation of the vaccine to be able to use its P3-billion budget to procure pneumonia vaccines instead.

"Ang kaniyang sinasabi, kailangang mas maraming vaccine sa pneumonia dahil sang-ayon sa record ng PhilHealth ay dumami raw ang cases ng pneumonia," he said.

"Itong data po na maraming pneumonia, fraudulent claims po yan ng PhilHealth at yan ay iimbestigahan namin sa Kamara de Representante," he added.

Roque argued that in 2016, the pneumonia vaccines were priced P800 apiece and when the government ordered a million dosages of it, it was given at P770 instead.

But when Ubial took the helm and quadrupled its order, the price instead increased by P45, yet there was a supposed uptick on the cases of pneumonia.

UBIAL'S DEFENSE

In the same hearing, Ubial said she did not lie about the Zika virus situation, and that there was no confirmed case when she declared the country Zika-free last September, and it was her who ordered her deputies to make the necessary clarifications when succeeding results said otherwise.

Ubial also pointed out that it was not within the power of the Health Secretary to decide whether to continue with the dengue vaccination program as this was delegated to an expert panel.

She also maintained that she had instituted a whistleblower policy at PhilHealth and had initiated administrative and fraud charges against officials of the attached agency.

Ubial's confirmation was left hanging when lawmakers adjourned its session Wednesday afternoon.

A lawmaker moved that the hearing on Ubial's confirmation be suspended for lack of material time, and Senator Gringo Honasan, chair of the health committee of the Commission on Appointments, asked lawmakers present if they seconded this.    

"The chair is not apologizing to you, I just want the nominee to understand that the committee is not dragging its feet here, but because of the enormity of the responsibility on your shoulders as a presumptive Secretary of Health, public interest demands that the commission deliberate on this," he said.

"Much of the issue that have been raised are technical. Most of us here are laymen with limited appreciation of this. The commission, it is the view of the chair, needs a little time to process this," he added.