MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte defended the Department of Health (DOH) after a Commission on Audit (COA) report drew questions on how it used over P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, saying it is impossible that the money was stolen.
Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao City, said he is familiar with the rigors of producing the paperwork for big government projects.
"I am not criticizing anybody, especially itong COA. But I've been mayor...May mga project tayo, backlog 'yung project. So ngayon, mayroon talaga 'yang mga papel-papel na hindi masyadong nakumpleto, 'yung the completion sa paperwork," he said during a recorded public address aired late Monday.
(I am not criticizing anybody, especially itong COA. But I've been mayor...We have backlog in projects, so the paperwork will be difficult to complete.)
Duterte said the "deficiencies" flagged by COA are merely due to lack in paperwork.
"'Pag mag-ano ang COA, magsabi sila na deficiency, ganoon ganoon, hindi naman ibig sabihin deficiency na ninakaw mo 'yung pera. Deficiencies, really, in producing the necessary documents to complete the story," he added.
(If that's is flagged by COA, they say there's a deficiency, it does not mean that the money is stolen. Deficiencies, really, in producing the necessary documents to complete the story.)
He also said it is "impossible" to steal P67.3 billion.
"Imposibleng magnakaw ka ng P67.3 (billion). Kasi 'yung exit call nila, 'yan ang problema. Kasi 'yung exit call would point out what needs to, what needs to be done further to complete the papers. Or, alam mo ang COA, every now and then, maraming regulasyon eh. Naghahabol ang bureacracy niyan. Many a government worker na who were placed in a bad light because paglabas nitong COA audit, eh legal itong mga deficiencies, kagaya nitong P67.3 [billion], 'yung ganoon, ang labas niyan sa tao, akala nawala. Nandiyan 'yung pera," Duterte said.
(It is impossible to steal P67.3 billion. The COA's exit call, that's the problem. In the exit call, they would point out what needs to, what needs to be done further to complete the papers. Or the COA, you know, every now and then, they have a lot of regulations. It's part of the bureaucracy. Many a government worker na who were placed in a bad light because when the COA report comes out, but the deficiencies are legal, like this P67.3 [billion], like that, people think it was stolen. The money is there.)
Duterte likewise said thinking that there is corruption involved in the Department of Health funds is "pure bullshit".
"I don't know but it could also run counter to public policy if you don't publish it. Just to inform the people of what is going on. But to the issue of whether the money has been stolen, that is pure bullshit," he said.
Duterte also appealed to the state auditors to let government officials finish their tasks before auditing projects so as to avoid the misconception that deficiencies in the paperwork mean that government funds are misused.
"If COA were the ones preparing the document tapos we just implement, eh 'di madali. Nandiyan na lahat ng gusto nila. Ang problema kasi diyan, I said, the paper that they are holding, or papers that they are, in their custody, are really insufficient and deficient. 'Wag ka munang mag-audit hanggang hindi pa natapos ang trabaho ko. 'Yun lang naman sana ang hinihingi natin. Do not conduct audit on our work na ongoing pa kasi 'yan dino-document pa 'yan hanggang...Ngayon kung birahin mo ako ng exit conference tapos deficiency, ganoon, na i-publish mo, I said, that statement of yours in that paper becomes the gospel truth. And it is not fair to the people," he said, adding that he had been through a similar experience twice in the past when he was still a local executive.
(If COA were the ones preparing the document and we just implement, then it will be faster. Everything they need will be there. But the problem is, as I said, the paper they are holding, or the papers in their custody, are really insufficient and deficient. Do not audit until we finish the job. That's what we are asking for. Do not conduct audit on our work that is still ongoing because we are still documenting it. Now you will attack me with the exit conference and show deficiencies and publish it. That statement of yours in that paper becomes the gospel truth.)
A 2020 COA report made public on Wednesday said the health department failed to comply with existing laws and regulations in handling the country's COVID-19 response funds worth P67.323 billion.
Purchases worth P5.038 billion were found to lack documentation and had procedural deficiencies, acts that violated the Government Procurement Reform Act, according to government auditors.
The deficiencies noted were purchases found to be disadvantageous to the government amounting to P194.403 million, as well as defects in the sworn statements in contracts, non-posting of procurement information on government website and non-provision of technical specifications in contracts.
In a rare clarification on Friday, the state auditors said the report, however, did not indicate that the DOH had lost the funds to corruption.
On Saturday, the DOH slammed corruption allegations, that the amount is fully accounted for.
The agency also said it is nearing completion of documents in response to state auditors, but there are still units in the agency that have yet to complete required papers.