Duterte hits COA on DOH audit report, defends health agency on ‘deficiencies’ over COVID-19 funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17) — President Rodrigo Duterte blasted the Commission on Audit for its recent audit report on the Department of Health, which uncovered some ₱67.3-billion worth of “deficiencies” in the management of COVID-19 funds.

"Imposibleng magnakaw ka ng (It is impossible for them to steal) ₱67.3 (billion)... The papers they (COA) are holding in their custody are really insufficient and deficient,” Duterte said in his pre-recorded weekly national address that aired late Monday night.

COA said in its 2020 annual audit report that the DOH had deficiencies worth around ₱66.28 billion that can be attributed to non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations.

State auditors also highlighted in their report the irregularities in the procurement process and lack of documentation in various contracts entered into by the DOH.

Duterte defended the DOH and attributed these “deficiencies” to incomplete paperwork, pointing out that there are government projects where documentation is not yet complete. He said this does not necessarily mean that corruption is involved.

Mayroon talagang mga papel-papel na hindi masyadong kumpleto sa paperwork. Pag mag-ano ang COA, magsabi ng deficiency, hindi mo sabihing deficiency na ninakaw mo iyong pera. Deficiencies really in producing the necessary documents to complete the story,” he explained.

[Translation: There are really documents with incomplete paperwork. If COA flags the deficiency, it does not mean that money was stolen.]

He said it is “pure b***s***” to say that the ₱67.3-billion budget allocated for pandemic response has been stolen.

The President once again came to the defense of embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is facing fresh calls for his resignation.

Wala ka namang ginawang masama, bakit ka mag-resign? [You did nothing wrong. Why would you resign?]” Duterte told the health chief.

The DOH maintained that most of the 13 deficiencies raised by COA have already been settled.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega noted the findings “are more of documentary issues,” adding that five have already been resolved, three have been partially resolved, and the rest are currently being addressed.

According to Vega, some of the fully resolved items include the ₱11.8 billion unobligated allotments under Bayanihan 1 and 2; the DOH’s failure to submit the required summary of donations amounting to ₱1.4 billion; and the “unauthorized” grant of ₱275-million worth of meal benefits in the form of cash equivalents.

The President then criticized COA auditors for making their reports appear that a government worker or agency is tainted with “corruption by perception.”

“Stop that flagging. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it would condemn the agency or person that you are flagging,” said Duterte.

The President told his Cabinet members to “ignore” the COA audit reports.

“Don't follow COA…nothing happens anyway. That's what I don't like, that flagging,” he said.

Duterte also urged the state auditing agency to let government officials complete their projects first before doing the annual auditing process.

“Do not conduct audit on our work na ongoing pa kasi 'yan dino-document pa 'yan… Ngayon kung birahin mo ako ng exit conference tapos deficiency, ganoon, na i-publish mo, I said, that statement of yours in that paper becomes the gospel truth. And it is not fair to the people,” he explained.

[Translation: Do not conduct an audit on our work that is still ongoing because we are still documenting it. Now if you will hit me in the exit conference and show deficiencies and publish it, that statement of yours in that paper becomes the gospel truth. And it is not fair to the people.]

The issue on the management of COVID-19 response funds by the DOH coincides with a surge of infections nationwide, amid the threat of the Delta variant.

The government reported 14,610 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the third consecutive day the tally surpassed 14,000. The total number of infected soared to 1,755,846, of which 106,672 or 6.1% are active cases.