MANILA - Embattled Health Sec. Francisco Duque III early Thursday morning admitted that there are anomalous activities being committed in the Department of Health (DOH), after Sen. Richard Gordon threatened to block the agency's budget.
During the Senate briefing on DOH's proposed 2021 budget, Gordon said billions of pesos were withdrawn from treatment spending plans, like the controversial Dengvaxia, and health facility enhancement programs, like mobile dental clinics.
The senator, who took part in the briefing via teleconference, highlighted a P8.1 billion project to establish school-based barangay health stations (BHS) across the country, which were supposed to be completed in two phases.
He said that only 270 BHS were completed out of 3,200 in Phase 1, and the costs of these stations reached around P4.4 billion. The project was terminated in 2018.
Gordon said J. Bros Construction, which got the project, was also ordered by the Supreme Court to return the stipulated mobilization fee amounting to P686 million.
"What is now the update on the barangay health centers, nabawi na ba natin 'yung pera?" he asked.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, sponsor of the DOH's budget, said that the agency blacklisted J. Bros but this was overturned by the Manila Regional Trial Court.
"The DOH, with the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) is questioning this RTC decision. This case is pending before the RTC of Manila," she said.
"This is really swindling the country...in barangay health centers and all," Gordon said. "Ang lakas naman ng mga loob ng mga 'yan. Ano ba ginagawa ninyo Sec. Duque. Ano ginagawa niyo ng lawyers niyo diyan?"
"Do you agree that there's corruption here?" he asked.
"It's under investigation. It's always, it is impossible," Cayetano said.
Gordon however refused to accept Cayetano's answer and said he is tempted to block the budget of DOH if it did not admit there are anomalous activities in the agency.
"The question is simple: do they agree that there is corruption as a department?" he asked.
Cayetano immediately replied that Duque, who was sitting behind her, agreed to Gordon's query.
"Thank you, that's all I wanted to hear," Gordon said.
This is not the first time Duque and the DOH faced corruption allegations. The Senate in September recommended the filing of malversation and graft charges against him and other officials over alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
Senators said that Duque, resigned PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales, and other executive officers of the insurance agency should be charged with malversation and graft for the "improper and illegal implementation" of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
The House of Representatives also approved a committee report last October to hold some officials of PhilHealth, Duque, and several cabinet members liable for alleged corruption at the state health insurer.
President Rodrigo Duterte however, has repeatedly defended and vouched for the health chief, saying he trusts Duque despite numerous allegations against the latter.