THE COMMISSION on Audit (CoA) said the Department of Health (DoH) failed to follow government standards on the handling of over P67 billion in funding to address the pandemic.   

The finding of “deficiencies” was contained in the commission’s 2020 audit report, made public on Wednesday.

“These deficiencies contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DoH during the time of state of calamity (or) national emergency, and cast doubt on the regularity of related transactions,” said state auditors. 

CoA described the DoH’s lapses as “non-compliance (with) pertinent laws, rules, and regulations,” which surfaced after an initial audit of COVID-19 funds, the conclusions of which were contained in a Consolidated Management Letter that was transmitted to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III on May 4.  

State auditors found that P42.41 billion was transferred to implementing partner agencies without a memorandum of agreement and other supporting documents, which led to delays in the delivery of essential medical equipment.

Deficiencies were also found in the DoH’s procurement process, including lack of documentation in contracts on P5.04 billion worth of spending items. The commission said the deals as struck “deprived the government of the most (advantageous) prices and cast doubt on the regularity in the payment of transactions.” 

Auditors also found allotments unobligated by the DoH worth P11.89 billion that could have been used in “strengthening the Department’s capacity to address the COVID-19 pandemic and further buttress the healthcare system.”
Some P69.94 million worth of medical equipment and supplies procured for the COVID-19 containment effort were found to have not been immediately utilized by the department.

CoA said funds that went unused were “counter-beneficial to the Department’s continuing efforts towards controlling the spread of COVID-19.”

“These funds that remained idle as at year-end were not translated to much-needed health supplies, equipment, and services that could have benefitted both the health workers and the general public during the critical times of the pandemic,” it reported.

In response to the audit report, the Health department said in an initial statement that the deficiencies reported in the report are “currently being addressed by management of DoH.”

“DoH stands firm in its commitment to observe utmost transparency and accountability in the utilization of government funds more specifically for those allotted for COVID-19 response,” it added.

Mr. Duque also said in a Viber message that a “more detailed” response will be released once the department completes its own report on the matter.

In the Senate, Senator Francis Pancratius N. Pangilinan said that the CoA report confirms that “incompetence and corruption” resulted in the Philippines’ laggard performance in containing the outbreak relative to what neighbors have achieved.

Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva highlighted the need for “critical personnel hires in the field of procurement and supply chain management.”

“When procurement is choked by inefficiencies, a COVID patient struggling to breathe dies down the line. Hopefully, we have a catch-up plan in 2021 and manage to deliver ventilators and X-ray machines,” he said. — Russell Louis C. Ku with Alyssa Nicole O. Tan