Ombudsman: Probe on DOH transactions, 'lapses' led to suspension of 5 officials in 2020

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 20 2021 08:02 PM

MANILA — The Office of the Ombudsman last year ordered an investigation regarding the Department of Health's (DOH) alleged anomalous transactions and "lapses," that led to the preventive suspension of 5 officials, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said Friday.

In a statement, Martires said he ordered an investigation as early as June last year into the DOH procurement of test kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs), "and other emergency purchases." 

The Ombudsman's ongoing probe also covered the supposed failure of the DOH to pay the immediate relatives of health workers who died due to COVID-19, as well as medical frontliners who fell ill. 

Several senators in June criticized the DOH for the delayed implementation of a Bayanihan Act provision that guaranteed P1-million compensation for health workers who died due to the coronavirus, and P100,000 for those who got severely ill due to the disease.

The Ombudsman also checked into the "lapses and inefficiencies that led to the rising number of deaths and infected medical frontliners," Martires said. 

These led to the preventive suspension of 5 health officials in October last year, according to Martires.

"The Office of the Ombudsman would prefer to work quietly and away from the limelight, particularly when the reputation of people in the government are concerned," the Ombudsman said. 

"After all, we still operate under the Constitutional presumption of innocence and the statutory presumption that official functions are regularly performed," he added. 

Martires added that his office will review the Commission on Audit's (COA) report on the DOH for last year to "compare the same with our findings to determine the existence of any administrative or criminal liability in relation to the financial transactions of the DOH."

The Ombudsman's statement came after COA published its annual reports on how government agencies spent public funds, most notably the DOH's "deficiencies" in handling some P67 billion worth of pandemic response money. 

AUDIT OBSERVATIONS 

Martires said the Ombudsman's investigation also aimed to look at the root cause of the "inefficiency or mismanagement", particularly into the areas of possible corruption. 

The results, he said, will be "communicated to the agency concerned and to Congress for appropriate legislation, if necessary."

"With the 2020 Annual Audit Report (AAR), this will greatly help in their investigation," the statement read. 

While a COA annual report is final, an agency is still given enough time to comply with the auditors' recommendations. 

"The audit process is still on-going and not yet complete. If we were to compare it to a case before the regular courts, the findings of the auditor can be likened to a decision by the Regional Trial Court which is appealable to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court," Martires explained.

"In this case, the audit observations can still be brought to the Commission Proper for final decision." 

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this week blasted COA for releasing audit reports, even asking his Cabinet to ignore them, saying its documents were "really insufficient and deficient."

Meanwhile, DOH's "deficiencies" in its pandemic response funds is the subject of an investigation in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. The committee will reconvene on Aug. 25 to continue the hearings.

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