Duque admits ‘losing sleep’, ‘bloodied and bludgeoned’ over COA report on pandemic fund

Duque admits 'losing sleep', 'bloodied and bludgeoned' over COA report on pandemic fund

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III turned emotional on Tuesday as he ranted against the Commission on Audit (COA), even daring state auditors to instead do his agency’s work during the pandemic.

Duque faced legislators of the House of Representatives as the COA briefed the House committee on public accounts about its report which found “deficiencies” amounting to P67.32 billion in the Department of Health’s (DOH)  COVID-19 response fund in 2020.

According to Duque, he and other DOH personnel have lost sleep due to “shame” as they were “bloodied and bludgeoned with this issue.” He also lamented that the issue has “damaged” the “dignity” of the DOH and its workers, including himself.

“Mula no’ng Wednesday na lumabas po ito, hindi na po ako nakakatulog, ang mga kasama kong mga opisyal sa DOH, hindi na rin halos nakakatulog. Bakit ‘ka ninyo?  Sa kahihiyan, we were bloodied and bludgeoned with this issue, and kung ganito nang ganito tayo, papaano tayo uunlad?” he said.

“So masakit po talaga sa amin ito dahil kami ho ang pangunahing ahensya na humaharap, tumutugon sa panahon na ito. Sabi ko nga sa inyo, nagkasakit na ang mga tao ko, nag-isolate, nagquarantine, may namatay na, pero Diyos por Santo, maawa naman kayo, kayo nga ang pumunta dito at kayo ang gumawa?” he added.

COA’s report indicated that the deficiencies were caused by non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations that have led to missed opportunities and contributed to challenges that the country faced during the health crisis. There was no mention of “corruption” in the COA report.

Duque insisted, however, that the DOH should have been allowed to reply or issue rejoinders to the COA report, which is not yet conclusive, rather than let the audit document step on the DOH’s dignity.

He said the DOH was aware of the COA findings and that they are already finding ways to address the issues and points raised by the state auditor.

“Ang mga civil servants natin na maganda ang ginagawa — alam namin ‘yong sinasabi ninyo eh, it is precisely because itong findings na nakita siguro is because we are cognizant of the state of public health emergency that we are all in given this pandemic that has brought the whole world down to its knees,” the DOH chief said.

“Winarak na ninyo kami eh, winarak na ninyo ang dangal ng DOH. Winarak ninyo ang lahat ng mga kasama ko dito, hindi kami makaharap sa mga tao dahil lahat ang dami-daming sinasabi, ang dami-daming paratang. Wala pa rin akong tulog, ilang gabi na po ito,” he added.

In the audit report, Duque was asked by COA to implement various recommendations to avoid similar issues in the future.

The recommendations centered on reminding and directing unit heads to act urgently in utilizing funds allocated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic while instructing the administration and financial team to closely coordinate and “conduct regular/periodic assessment” on the utilization of COVID-19 funds.

Duque was also asked to conduct investigations on irregularities with the COVID-19 funds.

The DOH chief’s outburst came after Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta questioned why COA has been releasing inconclusive audit reports, adding that people are dissuaded and angered by reports that are not yet final.

In response, COA said that they have not released the information to the media, maintaining that the commission is mandated to review the expenditures of a particular agency.

The controversial COA report was posted on the commission’s official website which is accessible to the public, including the media. COA regularly posts its audit reports on its website for transparency.