VP Leni dismayed at report DOH could not account for billions in COVID-19 funds

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2021 05:04 PM | Updated as of Aug 12 2021 11:35 PM

Vice President Leni Robredo speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2021.
Vice President Leni Robredo speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2021. Jay Ganzon, OVP

MANILA (UPDATED) — Vice President Leni Robredo on Thursday expressed disappointment over findings of the Commission on Audit that saw deficiencies in Department of Health's management of more than P67 billion in COVID-19 funds.

In an interview after inspecting the vaccine express project of her office, private companies and the local government of Quezon City, Robredo said that DOH funds could have been spent wisely by the government.

“Hindi ko pa napapag-aralan iyong detalye at humihingi na ako ng pag-aaral ng detalye sa aming policy team pero kung ano man 'yon, 'yun ang nakakasayang, 'yun ang nakakasayang kasi parati nating sinasabi wala tayong pera, hindi mabigyan ng ayuda dahil kulang ang pera, hindi ibinibigay ang hazard pay sa workers dahil kulang ang budget,” Robredo said.

(I have yet to study the details and I've asked for an analysis from our policy team but the budget was wasted. We keep saying we have no money, we can't give aid, workers are not receiving hazard pay because we are short on budget.)

The Vice President also noted that deficiencies cited by government auditors happened amid the Philippines' rising foreign debt. 

“Kung totoo nga bang maraming hindi nagastos, malungkot ito, malungkot kasi may pera pero hindi siya nagastos at hindi siya nagastos ng tama, and on top of it alam nating marami tayong utang ngayon,” Robredo said.

(If it's true that a big amount was unspent, this is saddening because there was a budget but we did not spend it wisely. On top of it, we know we have a lot of debt now.)

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the agency's management of COVID-19 response funds would "definitely be taken up" during Senate deliberations on 2022 budget proposals. 

"Sadly, the issues brought to light by the Commission on Audit report, among others, shows that he doesn't care about the health concerns of the people who he is supposed to serve," he said in a statement.

Lacson recalled that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was unable to answer his questions satisfactorily during his confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments.

"Am I surprised that he did not even bother to research in spite of his obvious lack of knowledge on the importance of the supply chain in his department? What gives? It's hubris," he said.

"He only cares about his boss, the President who, for reasons only they probably know cannot and will not remove him from office in spite of repeated calls from the majority of senators and other sectors."

House Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva said the unaccounted funds should have been released to be used by thousands of health workers in the country.

He recalled when his party-list CIBAC filed a House resolution to probe audit reports alleging that DOH keeps on procuring medicines and drugs more than what it needed and was able to use in 2020.

"It’s really a must that we look into the procurement process of the agency to know why it always has a surplusage of medicines and drugs which are often stocked and not distributed, thus leading to wastage of public resources,” Villanueva said.

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The OVP's vaccine express program was launched as the capital region is under strict lockdown from August 6 to 20 to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

It was still early to tell if an extension of the enhanced community quarantine implementation is needed, according to Robredo.

“Tingin ko too early, halimbawa kahapon, 12,000 plus ang new cases, ang positivity rate ang taas-taas, 'yung akin ang positivity rate, pagpapakita na we are not testing enough, tingnan dun, san ba tayo hindi nagte-test enough,” she said.

(I think it's too early. For example, yesterday we had more than 12,000 new cases, our positivity rate is too high, which shows we are not testing enough. We should look into where are we not testing enough.)

Robredo said that aside from extending the ECQ in Metro Manila, the implementation of bubble lockdowns may also be looked into.

The vaccine express initiative of the OVP and its private partners, using the vaccine allocation of the local government of Quezon City, aims to vaccinate 5,000 tricycle and jeepney drivers and operators as well as delivery riders.