'Winarat niyo kami': Duque laments COA report on DOH funds in House hearing

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2021 07:24 PM | Updated as of Aug 18 2021 12:21 AM

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MANILA (UPDATED)- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday became emotional while defending his agency before House lawmakers, days following the Commission on Audit's (COA) report questioning how the DOH used over P67 billion in COVID-19 funds. 

Duque said that he has been losing sleep since the COA's report was published. He described it as "unfair and painful" as it supposedly hesmirched his agency's reputation.

"Winarat nito kami, winarat niyo ang dangal ng DOH... hindi kami makaharap sa mga tao... wala pa rin akong tulog, ilang gabi na po ito," an emotional Duque told lawmakers at the start of an inquiry into the COA report on the DOH for last year.

"This is unfair, unjust that this judgment been handed down, clearly without giving the DOH the full 60 days within which we should have given our rejoinder," he said, his voice breaking.

"Masakit po talaga sa amin ito... nagkakasakit na mga tao ko, nag-isolate, nag-quarantine, may namatay na. Por Diyos por santo maawa naman kayo." 

The health secretary said they were "burgeoned" with the issue, and questioned how civil servants would be inspired with rampant criticisms. 

He added that the DOH is "not operating under normal circumstances." 

"Kayo nga ang pumunta rito at kayo ang gumawa. I speak in behalf of my people in the department. Mahirap na mahirap po talaga itong nangyayari na ito na winarat na ang imahe ng DOH na nangunguna sa pagtugon... sa COVID-19 pandemic." 

COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo denied, however, that DOH was not given a chance. He clarified that the agency has 60 days to act on the COA's recommendations.

He explained that the 2020 report covers transactions as of December 31, 2020, as submitted around February 2021.

From there, the official said that COA checks the accuracy of the submissions of management even as they recommend improvement opportunities, determine the propriety of transactions, and comply with laws and regulations. 

COA also determines the extent of the implementation of the prior year’s observations.

Aguinaldo also maintained that their annual audit report is not “equivalent to an audit decision.”

"Yung audit report is a requirement by law. That has to come out. Before this audit is issued, mayroon pa yang exit conference. It’s not correct at all na sabihing walang due process," he said.

"It’s not only the DOH central office are being audited. We do have an obligation to report. We have to mention what happened sa pondo ng gobyerno," he added.

Former senator and Sorsogon Govenor Francis Escudero noted that Duque didn't respond to any of COA's remarks. 

"Explaining to the public both our actions/inactions are part of po our job as public servants ... no need to cry or pander," he tweeted. 

In a speech taped Monday evening, Duterte, a lawyer whose campaign promises in 2016 include fighting corruption, told members of his Cabinet to ignore COA reports, claiming its documents are "insufficient and deficient."

He also said state auditors should stop flagging deficiencies in government projects, especially those connected to pandemic response.

"Stop that flagging, God damn it. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it, because it will condemn the agency or the person that you are flagging," he said.

A 2020 COA report made public last week 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. 

In a clarification on Friday, the state auditors said the report, however, did not indicate that the DOH had lost the funds to corruption. 

- with reports from RG Cruz and Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News