MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said there may be a "mafia" in the Department of Health (DOH) behind the years-long procurement of expired or near-expired medicine.
The DOH has allegedly wasted P2.73 billion in expired, overstocked, and near-expired medicine in a span of 8 years, said Lacson, a former investigator, during a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
"Probably, mayroong mafia na well-entrenched na hindi nabubuwag. Puwedeng nag-retire na 'yung iba, pero pinalitan ng hindi pa natatanggal at natutong miyembro ng mafia," he said.
(Probably, there is a mafia that is well-entrenched in the DOH that has yet to be dismantled. Some of its members may have retired already, but other members who are still in the agency may have taken over.)
"Sana, kung isang taon lang, tapos nawala, maaaring kapabayaan lang. Pero recurring," he noted.
(If it was just procured for one year and then was corrected, it might be a case of negligence. But this has been a recurring issue.)
The bulk of the purchase of expired or near-expired medicine happened in 2019, when the DOH disbursed P2.2 billion, according to data from Lacson.
The amount may be even higher if the data collated extend before 2013, the senator said.
"Ito ay talagang wastage at wastage of public funds... I think an investigation is in order bakit lagi na lang ganito yung ating pagbili, pag-procure ng drugs and medicine," he said.
(This is really wastage of funds... I think an investigation is in order to find out why it's always like this when we are buying drugs and medicine.)
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the medicines in question may simply have not been needed in previous years.
"Hindi ka puwede bumili ng near expiry na drugs and medicine," Duque said.
(We cannot buy drugs and medicine that are near expiry.)
"Baka hindi lang siya gumalaw agad, at lumapit na sa kaniyang expiration," he said.
(Maybe these were not utilized immediately, so they remained in our stocks until they are about to expire.)
Duque said he would order an investigation into the questionable purchase of the near-expired medicine after Lacson underscored that he does not believe that the Health chief has been "co-opted" by the alleged mafia.
UNFINISHED INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
Aside from the medicine, Lacson also alleged that the DOH has wasted some P18.5 billion in infrastructure funds when it failed to complete several health-related facilities.
"We are depriving the public of the benefits which they could have derived from different and maximum use of these facilities," the senator said.
"Medyo nasho-shortchange natin yung customers ninyo, the public," he said.
(You are somehow shortchanging your customers, the public.)
Duque promised the chamber that he would also order an investigation into these supposed lapses.
"Magpapagawa ako ng imbentaryo ng mga kontrata nito at titingnan ko kung bakit hindi natapos at ano kaya ang mga circumstances. I will have all the contracts reviewed," Duque said.
(We will ask for an inventory of contracts and see why these were not finished and what were the circumstances. I will have all the contracts reviewed.)
Bureaus under the DOH will also be asked to explain and give details why "irregular, unnecessary and excessive expenditure" under the agency have amounted to some P956 million in a span of 5 years, he said.
"Ang akin pong marching order sa mga implementing units ay magpadala sila agad ng kanilang paliwanag dito sa mga irregular, unnecessary expenditures kung ito po ba ay lumalabag sa ating mga panuntunan," said Duque.
(My marching order to all our implementing units is to send an explanation about these irregular, unnecessary expenditures and if these violate our policies.)
"I would like to correct this even before it reaches the stage of investigation," he said.
Of the P103 billion given to the DOH for pandemic response programs, the Commission on Audit flagged deficiencies in the utilization of P67 billion.
Duque earlier assured the public that no funds were stolen, and that the DOH would act on state auditors' recommendations to correct the spending issues.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee ordered DOH officials to submit updates and documents to the chamber on August 27, when the panel reconvenes for a third hearing.