Duque now on the defensive
COVID-19

Duque now on the defensive

Dec 5, 2022, 8:55 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Writer/Columnist

Having been in government for 21 years, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque is having a taste of what it is to be on the defensive.

For such a long time, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was so powerful and often ended up winning over every criticism—good, bad and ugly. After all, he occupied too many positions in government.

His first government post was in June 2001 when then President Gloria Macapagal appointed him president/CEO of Philhealth and four years later, as secretary of the Department of Health.

On Jan 11, 2010 he was appointed as chair of the Civil Service Commission and three months later as vice chair of the Career Executive Service Board and then in 2017 as chairman of the Government Service Insurance System by President Duterte.

However, barely one year after his appointment to GSIS, Duterte appointed Duque as DOH Secretary once more, staying as its head during the pandemic.

In 2019, he was accused by Sen. Panfilo Lacson of conflict of interest because his sibling’s company, Doctors’ Pharmaceutical and Education and Medical Development Corp (EMDC) continued bagging contracts with government agencies, with him as DoH head.

On August 16, 2021, he accused the Commission on Audit of destroying the good image of DoH with the audit report detailing servious adverse findings in the disbursement by DoH of P67.32 billion worth of COVID -19 funds. And on Sept. 1, 2021, he was tagged by a former PhilHealth anti-fraud officers as the “godfather” of the “mafia” during a senate investigation on billion pesos Philhealth funds lost to corruption.

Under new COA head

With current COA chair Gamaliel Cordoba’s claim that Duque had withheld documents on vaccine procurement deals because of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) between DoH and vaccine manufacturers, Duque countered yesterday it was he who sought a special audit and even provided the necessary documents to COA as required by multilateral banks which loaned some $2 billion to the government for COVID-19 vaccine program.

Duque also said he wondered why his successor, DOH officer in charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, had left out the fact that the request for an audit was made during his term.

He said it was during his watch that the DOH, in a letter signed by then Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, asked the COA to start an audit of the three loan programs extended by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

He gave the Inquirer a copy of a letter dated Nov. 16, 2021, addressed to then COA chief Michael Aguinaldo which said that the World Bank and ADB had required a “special audit” for the funding projects in the spirit of “accountability and transparency.”

Based on the letter, the audit should cover the following periods: Oct. 13, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, under ADB’s Health System Enhancement to Address and Limit COVID-19 (HEAL) 1; April 15 to Dec. 15, 2021, under HEAL 2; and Jan. 31 to Dec. 31, 2021, under the World Bank’s Philippines COVID-19 Emergency Response Project (PCERP).

The letter also identified the pertinent paperwork which state auditors could parse: “Project loan agreement for both ADB and PCERP; ADB HEAL project administration manual, PCERP project operations manual, and multiyear work and financial plan.”

Issue with Vergeire

He questioned why Vergeire did not say when the DOH had sought an audit, saying it was “lamentable… [that] this important piece of info” was left out.

“Though she emphasized it was DOH that requested… an audit, [she] did not mention the very important timeline of Nov. 16, 2021, when the letter was sent when I was still very much the SOH (secretary of health) until June 30, 2022,” Duque said.

In his confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments last Tuesday, Cordoba disclosed that Duque had written COA that the DOH could not release the vaccine procurement records due to NDAs.

But on Friday, Vergeire contradicted Duque and cited exemptions in the agreements which stated that the documents could be shared if required by law or as part of the process for auditing or investigation.

The legal team of the DOH was also studying the matter to avoid possible breach of contract, she added.

44-M doses wasted

As of the end of 2021, the government had borrowed $2 billion, or about P100.5 billion, including $650 million in loans from the HEAL funding project and another $900 million under the PCERP, for its COVID-19 vaccination program.

Some 44 million doses were reported to have gone to waste due to expiration and mishandling, with the losses earlier estimated at around P15.6 billion. But Vergeire said only about 2 percent of the wastage were from the inventory of the national government with the majority, or 75 percent, coming from those of the private sector or local governments.

Senate inquiry still on

Sen. Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, said the Senate would proceed with its inquiry into the government’s vaccine procurement for public interest. He said P70-billion was released to roll out the country’s procurement program in 2020. Another P45 billion was allotted to buy booster shots last year.

“The people should know how these funds were used and if these were spent correctly,” he said in a radio interview on Sunday. “This is very important because this is no ordinary procurement. It also involves the people’s health.”
“Now that [the DOH] is saying that there’s a wastage of 44 million doses, the people should know the price per dose,” Tolentino said.

Tags: #ExDoHSecretary, #COA, #expiredvaccines


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