MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday said the Department of Health (DOH) transferred P42 billion to an office under the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to allegedly "mask its unobligation rate and inefficiency."
The DOH failed to spend P24 billion or 31.17 percent of COVID-19 funds granted to the agency, Drilon said during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's investigation on the Commission on Audit's (COA) preliminary report about deficiencies in the DOH's spending of COVID-19 funds.
"The DOH tried to mask its unobligation rate and inefficiency by transferring P42 billion to the procurement service of the DBM (PS-DBM)," he said.
"Mas malaki pa ang hindi nagagastos na pera ng DOH kung isasama natin yung pondo na pinasa sa PS-DBM," he said.
(The DOH would have logged a higher unobligation rate if the fund transferred to the PS-DBM is included.)
The DOH said it decided to transfer P42 billion to the PS-DBM to procure face masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment for medical frontliners last year.
"PS-DBM has a surplus of these PPEs in their online store. They offered us to procure," said Health Undersecretary Carol Taiño, head of the DOH's procurement office.
"Nag-request kami (We requested) for them to procure for us," she said.
Sen. Imee Marcos questioned why another agency had to procure in behalf of the DOH when the Health agency was only purchasing "very ordinary" items.
"Wala naman kayong extraordinary na binibili. Bakit kailangan pupunta pa sa specialized agency? Bakit bigla ninyo binalik bigla sa PS-DBM?" she said.
(You did not buy anything extraordinary. Why did you have to tap a specialized agency? Why did you return it to the PS-DBM?)
Marcos also noted that the DOH even procured "expensive" face masks worth P27 each, while face shields were "overpriced" at P122 each.
"Sobra naman atang specialized nitong binili niyo na napaka mamahal saksakan naman ata ng overpriced," she said.
(What you bought must be so specialized that it's so expensive and overpriced.)
Drilon added that the DOH's fund transfer was made without a memorandum of agreement with the DBM.
"The P42-billion fund transfers were not supported with complete documentary requirements... casted doubts on the validity regularity of transactions," he said.
There is no need to craft a memorandum of agreement for the purchase of "common use equipment," said DOH Dir. Paul Guimbarda, who was in charge of the DOH's Procurement and Supply Chain Management Team.
But COA chair Michael Aguinaldo refuted this, saying the transfer of funds from one agency to another should be properly documented.
"Even for the auditors mahirap yun kasi nakanino na [yung pera]?" he said.
Drilon said he is convinced that the DOH may have been trying to to hide its underspending during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am sure they are doing this to get away from the situation which they are in," the Senate Minority Leader said.
"To them, the moment they pass it on to PS-DBM, they have already obligated the budget where in fact, the fund slept in these agencies for years," he said.
Drilon noted that the strategy was quite similar to how other agencies transfer funds to the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) to make it appear that public funds have already been obligated.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee agreed to hold another hearing later this month to probe the role of former Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao, who allegedly supervised the procurement of the supposedly overpriced face masks and face shields for the DOH.
President Rodrigo Duterte has defended Health Secretary Francisco Duque III against the COA's preliminary findings against the DOH. Duterte said funds for pandemic-related programs were not stolen.