MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) takes the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) seriously to improve efficiency and delivery of services, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said Thursday.
“This is really one way of making sure ang management can have the right policies and reforms and fund management for the following years kaya mahalaga talaga ang mga audit reports at nagkakaroon kami ng exit conferences d'yan,” said Vega, DOH Undersecretary for Administration and Financial Management Team.
(This is really one way of making sure that the management can have the right policies and reforms and fund management for the following years, that’s why audit reports are important and we also conduct exit conference.)
Vega, in an interview on TeleRadyo, said the DOH will comply with the recommendations and attend to the deficiencies noted by the COA.
“This is very important in terms of improving efficiency and delivery of our services. We really take it seriously in terms of providing the basic needs of what COA wants,” said the official who used to be medical chief of the Davao City-based Southern Philippines Medical Center before getting appointed at the DOH.
The COA said in its 2020 report on DOH that there have been deficiencies in the way the agency disbursed some P67 billion in COVID-19 funds. It clarified that audit report on DOH is not conclusive of corruption.
“Give us time, we will provide the necessary documents and supporting papers. But parang guide post kasi itong COA reports. These are guide posts on where we should be going,” Vega said.
On Wednesday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III slammed state auditors for its allegedly “unfair and painful” report on the COVID-19 funds, saying it has besmirched his agency’s reputation.
Vega said Duque is only human.
“Secretary Duque is human. There are quick reactions and slow reactions. Definitely, at that time, it was the quick reaction in this humanness na nangyari,” he said.
But he stressed that the DOH believes and treats the COA report as guide post.
“Basically, it was just a very emotional reaction. And the Department of Health believes in the COA reports as guide posts. And we also will strongly follow the memorandum given to us because this will actually improve our fund management and definitely our efficiency in the delivery of our processes,” he said.
On the issue of the special risk allowance under the Bayanihan Law which many health workers have failed to receive, Vega said the DOH will look for other funds to cover it.
“Alam naming may hindi nabigyan. Kaya kinausap na namin mga organizations ng mga private health nurses, PNA, at saka yung Alliance of Healthcare Workers. Nag-usap na po kami, binigyan namin sila kung bakit nagkaganun. And ang remedy nito, kung pwedeng hanapan sila ng another budget augmentation coming from DBM or ipasa ng Congress ang Bayanihan 3, specified talaga para klaro po,” he said.
(We know that there are those who were not given the benefits that’s why we talked to some organizations, private health nurses, PNA and the alliance of healthcare workers. We discussed the delay. And the remedy is if we can find another budget augmentation coming from the DBM or if Congress passes the Bayanihan 3.)
Vega said they are asking their regional offices to send a new validated list, and the central office will look for funds to cover it.
“Kung malaki talaga ang halaga (If it's a big amount), then we need to ask for augmentation coming from the Department of Budget and Management,” said Vega.
Under the law, health workers handling COVID-19 patients are entitled to receive SRA and hazard pay on top of their usual salaries.
“Very specific ang law sa SRA, na those healthcare workers directly handling COVID patients. Yun ang nasa Bayanihan 2, and then kinuha lang ito ng joint memorandum circular na DBM at DOH,” he said.
(The law is very specific that for SRA, it's only for those workers directly handling COVID patient. That's what's in Bayanihan 2. And this was adopted in the joint memorandum circular between the DBM and the DOH.)
Vega admitted that there were shortcomings.
“May pagkukukang talaga po, inaamin namin yan. We have to adjust to this kind of gap para mabigyan ang mga healthcare workers,” he said.
(We admit that there were shortcomings. We have to adjust to this kind of gap to give the benefits to our healthcare workers.)
Vega explained that one of the reasons in the delay in disbursing SRA funds was in securing the memorandum of agreement between the regional offices and the different private and local government hospitals, as public funds cannot be directly downloaded to the private hospitals in the regions without a MOA.
The DBM released the funds on June 25, and it had to be obligated and disbursed by June 30 when the Bayanihan 2 was set to expire.
“Ang medyo mahirap na kailangan naming commitment, yung MOA between the region and the local government units dahil dadaan yung sa Sanggunian. Hindi basta-basta pipirma ang mayor not unless with concurrence of the Sanggunian. Yun ang medyo tricky. But they made ways in making sure maibaba ito sa mga local government units,” he said.
(What makes this difficult is that we need commitment, because the MOA between the region and the local government units has to pass through the legislative bodies there. The mayor will not sign right away without concurrence of the Sanggunian. That is where it’s a bit tricky. But they made ways in making sure that the funds are downloaded to the local government units.)
The DBM, in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, said the DOH did not immediately sign the joint circular for the guidelines on the grant of SRAs. The DBM said the June 1 administrative order for the guidelines on the SRA was received and signed by their office on June 3. But the DOH signed the joint circular only on June 16.