"How can one be as insensitive, callous and incompetent as to have these funds lying around?"
I have no doubt that President Duterte is aware of the mandate of the Commission on Audit (COA) under the 1987 Constitution. I am also certain that he, having been in government service for decades, understands the whys, hows and wherefores of the audit process.
Which is why when he voiced concern (some quarters said trashed talked) the COA over the body’s audit report on the DOH, I surmise it was more out of exasperation over the department’s inability to explain and reconcile its reported transactions with that of the auditor’s findings.
That the COA report on the DOH’s operations in 2020 was the banner story for days on end without a whit of a credible explanation from Health Secretary Duque and his minions made things even more problematic. As one noted columnist noted, the DOH’s deafening silence over the issues raised in the midst of continuing public concern over the government’s pandemic response boiled over—and how!
We note that the COA report is called an audit observation memo (AOM) which cites certain concerns over the manner by which funds have been used (or unutilized) and transactions which may have been undertaken in violation of the rules. This AOM does not speak of corruption yet but of questionable transactions and possible misuse of funds which the DOH has to explain.
Like all government entities, the DOH is given at least 60 days to explain why the said audit observations will not translate into a serious violation of the rules and eventually a corrupt and fraudulent act. Not only was the DOH given 60 days to explain —the agency was afforded six months to do so. That should have been more than enough time for the agency to come out with a credible explanation to clear all doubt. But no. They have yet to issue anything of value in the audit.
In any event, what is important at this point is for Duque and his cohorts to come out with credible explanations over the department’s questionable transactions, not to mention the tone-deaf responses to the critical health problems on hand. It is as if these guys are so callous to the bone they do not even have a handle on the realities on the ground. Or, even worse, they are too inexcusably incompetent to properly and responsibly respond to the life-and-death demands of the times.
That risk allowance issue for all health workers is not a new one. That was also brought out in the middle of the strictest lockdowns in the middle of the pandemic last year. Then, Duque was called out for the non-payment of death benefits to the frontliners and hazard allowances to those who either fell ill and those who still managed to stay on the job.
Then as now, it took President Duterte to call them out and give a deadline for compliance before they scrambled to do what needed to be done.
Then as now Duque blamed his subordinates for the “faux pas” except that this time around, he is now blaming the COA for putting them in shame. No, sir. The COA is just doing its job. Explain the delay in giving out these benefits for which funds have been readily allocated since.
That risk allowance issue tagged by COA was part of the P67 billion it deemed as deficiencies due to lack of transparency, non-compliance with the rules and regulations on fund releases and irregularities in the procurement process. Imagine calling out Duque and his minions for P11.9 billion in unused risk allowance and hazard pay for health workers. How can one be as insensitive, callous and incompetent as to have these funds lying around while our health workers are doing such herculean work to have our health care system in place?
The same audit report observed billions of unspent funds strewn all over the DOH which is definitely a red flag for all intents and purposes. To think that P24.6 billion of the so-called unspent funds consists of unobligated allotments—meaning funds just lying around, maybe in some time deposit somewhere or in some other financial hub without any specific program or project or activity to fund, and some P34.5 billion in unpaid obligations to suppliers, contractors and other transactions. That billions of the DOH funds are categorized as such speaks clearly of the topsy turvy management system in place in the agency which is supposed to be the lead in responding to the demands of battling this pandemic.
Making matters worse, the COA found out that the DOH returned P9 billion to the Bureau of Treasury even as it is “scrambling for funds to pay the risk hazard allowance and other benefits of our health care workers.” What kind of nonsense is that, prompting the auditors to say “these unused funds are more than enough to affect the level of efficiency of the agency’s implementation of its responsibilities and its response to our urgent health care needs.” We can only say Amen to that.
But that is not all that COA said about the DOH.
To be fair, it also called out a number of other agencies which were provided funds for specific pandemic response measures which also did not live up to public expectations. We will discuss this in the second part of our take on the COA reports this time with names and faces to the said observed questionable transactions.
To be continued