Duque admits some past DOH deals were corrupt as Gordon threatens to block budget

By: Christia Marie Ramos - Reporter / @CMRamosINQ - Inquirer.net | November 19,2020 - 12:24 PM

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (taken Feb. 4, 2020) PHOTO BY EDWIN BACASMAS

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III acknowledged on Wednesday that there was “corruption” in some of the previous dealings of the Department of Health (DOH) after Sen. Richard Gordon threatened to block the approval of the department’s budget.

During the Senate plenary debates on the proposed budget of DOH for 2021 early Thursday, Senator Richard Gordon raised issues concerning public funds withdrawn for several DOH programs in the past.

Aside from the funds withdrawn for Dengvaxia back in 2015, Gordon said there was also money pulled for the health facility enhancement program aimed at building barangay health stations.

“In fairness to Secretary Duque, he exposed that. I heard him on TV. The total amount that was withdrawn was P10.6 billion and there was immediate release,” Gordon added, speaking partly in Filipino.

In 2016, the DOH and J. Bros Construction signed a P3.5-billion contract to establish barangay health stations in public elementary schools.

The contract indicated that 3,200 stations should be built for the first phase of the program.

But when J. Bros Construction submitted its notice of termination of contract in March 2018 to the DOH it demanded payment of P2.1 billion for accomplishing the first and second phases of the project.

But the DOH had previously said that only 270 stations were built, which Gordon reiterated during the deliberations.

“What is now the update on the barangay health centers?  Were we able to recover the money?” he asked.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, who sponsored the DOH budget, said the department would want to follow the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which directed the agency to pay the private contractor for the 270 completed units and “whatever the [Commission on Audit] decides is due to the contractor based on quantum merit.”

Further, Cayetano said the DOH had terminated the contract with the contractor.

The DOH also blacklisted the contractor, “but such a decision was overturned” by a Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC), according to Cayetano.

“Thus, the DOH, with the [Office of the Solicitor General] is questioning this RTC decision. This case is pending before the RTC of Manila,” Cayetano added.

But Gordon said: “I am shocked. This is really swindling the country… Those people are really daring. So what are you doing about it, Secretary Duque? What are you and your lawyers doing about it?”

“Do you agree that there was corruption here?” he asked. “‘There’s corruption.’ I want that on the record as stated by the Department of Health.”

Cayetano, who was sitting in front of the DOH officials, including Duque, responded with: “It’s under investigation. It is possible.”

But Gordon said he could not accept Cayetano’s answer. He said he felt “tempted” to block the approval of the budget of the DOH “if they themselves cannot admit that they’ve been hoodwinked.”

“Especially since the Secretary of Health has already said that this was a badly planned exercise and there was money lost by the government,” Gordon said.

“The question is simple: Do they agree that there is corruption as a department?” he asked.

Cayetano immediately said Duque was answering Gordon’s question in the affirmative.

“The answer is yes. The Secretary was responding behind me and he said yes,” she said.

In response, Gordon said: “Thank you, that’s all I wanted to hear.”

The proposed 2021 budget of the DOH was approved after no more senators were listed to interpellate.

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