MANILA - The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will investigate allegations of impropriety against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, its chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said Tuesday.
Gordon said the probe aims to find out whether Duque breached ethics when his family’s pharmaceuticals firm bagged deals with the government while he was health secretary, as Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged.
“Issue of law iyon eh, iyung sinasabi niya na conflict of interest… On the other hand, sinasabing nag-divest,” Gordon told reporters.
(The allegation of conflict of interest is an issue of law… [Secretary Duque], on the other hand, said he divested [from the company].)
“It’s a fair allegation. The public has the right to know if there really was conflict of interest.”
Lacson on Monday said he discovered that the Duque family-owned Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc. (DPI) based in Taguig bagged government contracts in 2016 and 2017.
He said he discovered copies of contracts, one of which amounted to over P3 million, awarded to DPI.
“As a former chairman of the Civil Service Commission, Secretary Duque more than anyone of us should know by heart the code of conduct,” Lacson said in a privilege speech on Monday.
“Walang personalan (Don't take it personally). I raised this question to ensure that public funds are not misused and abused.”
Lacson raised red flags over the government contracts bagged by the Duque family-owned firm not only because it was a clear case of conflict of interest, but because of the firm's supposedly tarnished reputation.
He said the DPI started bidding for government projects in 2005, the year Duque was confirmed as health secretary under the Arroyo administration.
The Food and Drug Administration in 2015 ordered the DPI to stop selling medicine due to “nonconformance to pharmaceutical inspectorate cooperation scheme-good manufacturing practice,” Lacson said.
Despite the cease and desist order, Lacson said the DPI still managed to acquire a license to operate as a drug manufacturer in April 2016.
“This is a case of setting aside health for wealth,” Lacson said.
“When the pharmaceutical company that is awarded a contract to supply medicines to the DOH does not observe good manufacturing practice, does this not pose a threat to the health and safety of our public?”
In June, Lacson accused Duque of conflict of interest as he bared that the PhilHealth regional office in Dagupan City, Pangasinan was housed in a building owned by Duque's family company.
DOH, PCSO ANOMALIES
Gordon said he would also tackle other alleged anomalies and issues in the Department of Health, which he believes may have contributed to the rise of cases of measles and dengue in the country.
He said he would also tackle corruption allegations against the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
Lacson earlier noted that PhilHealth was “bleeding dry,” with its operating income hitting the negative level.
He alleged PhilHealth overpayments, where the agency would shell out an amount higher than the patient’s medical expenses, has cost the state-run firm an estimated P153.7 billion.
Last month, whistleblowers bared a Quezon City clinic's alleged scheme of making PhilHealth payment claims for dialysis patients who had already died.
President Rodrigo Duterte even spoke about the issue in his fourth State of the Nation Address last week.
Meanwhile, Gordon said he might also considering probing alleged anomalies at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, whose gaming operations were suspended by President Rodrigo Duterte due to alleged corruption.
“Mukhang seryoso silang mag-imbestiga. Kung ‘di sila seryosong mag-imbestiga, mag-iimbestiga kami,” Gordon said.