MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said he was "disheartened" over Senator Manny Pacquiao's corruption allegations in the Department of Health (DOH), noting that the agency has always submitted to the government’s auditing efforts.
In a statement, the health department said it is ready to undergo another round of auditing to pinpoint where its funds went, and downplayed Pacquiao's allegations as “baseless.”
“We submit ourselves to inquiries from legislators as this is a part of the checks and balances in our government. I have always been a champion of good governance and the DOH has always been transparent with regard to our fund utilization,” Duque was quoted as saying.
The country's health chief also said money from funding agencies does not directly go to agencies.
The statement came after Pacquiao named the DOH as the first on his list as being the top corrupt government office in the country, citing the purchases made for personal protective equipment and overpriced test kits at the height of the country’s fight against COVID-19.
“Handa ka ba Sec. Francisco Duque na ipakita ang kabuuan ng iyong ginagastos? Saan napunta ang pera na inutang natin para sa pandemya?” he asked.
(Sec. Francisco Duque, are you prepared to present all your expenses? Where did the money were borrowed for the pandemic go?)
But Duque said he is prepared, and would show where the money for the vaccine loans ended up.
The government official also cited the reports they submitted to the Senate and other concerned government agencies on the matter.
“Ang utang po natin para sa bakuna ay naipaliwanag na noon ng Department of Finance sa Senate Committee of the Whole hearing -- ang inutang na pondo ay diretsong napupunta sa vaccine manufacturer mula sa funding agency,” he said.
(Our vaccine loans have been explained to the Department of Finance during the Senate hearing, and we explained that our funds went directly to the vaccine manufacturer)
According to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group, as of early April this year, the total government loans in response to the pandemic has ballooned to P754 billion.
The P58.5 billion in loans for COVID-19 vaccines comprise three recent loans—all signed in March—from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). They account for only 8 percent of total government loans for COVID-19 response to date.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time that the DOH faced corruption allegations.
The Senate in September last year recommended the filing of malversation and graft charges against Duque and other officials over alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
Senators said that Duque, resigned PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales, and other executive officers of the insurance agency should be charged with malversation and graft for the "improper and illegal implementation" of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
The supposed lost funds in PhilHealth have already been taken into account, according to its new chief Dante Gierran.