House to press Duque for explanation on P67-B Covid response funds

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Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III  must explain the alleged deficiencies uncovered over the P67-billion Covid-19 pandemic response funds of the department, as reported by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The DOH chief will get his chance at the House of Representatives’ hearing on Tuesday.

“Anyway, he has vowed to account for all of the money and has declared that none of it has been lost to corruption,” Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday.

He said he wants Duque to particularly address repeated complaints on the payment of benefits that Congress had granted nurses and other health workers under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.

He noted that the Department of Budget and Management has recently announced that it released P9 billion for the special risk allowance and hazard pay of government and private health care workers.

“Where is the money now? Have the funds reached hospitals? Why are our nurses complaining that they have not received their special risk allowance and hazard pay?” said Rodriguez, who represents the second district of Cagayan de Oro.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the House will also receive a briefing from COA regarding the “deficiencies” it discovered in the management of funds entrusted to the DOH in 2020.

Velasco expressed hope the Congressional briefing could shed light on the controversy.

“We want to get the facts straight from COA and we are particularly concerned because the funds involved were among those allocated under the Bayanihan laws that Congress passed last year,” Velasco said in another statement.

He said the briefing would allow House members to monitor the use of pandemic funds and develop corresponding legislation.

“The overall objective is to ensure that the billions of pesos Congress had dedicated to Covid-19 response – and any additional funds it provides in future legislation – are spent wisely and effectively,” Velasco said.

He said the House leadership would like to hear first the explanation of the DOH on the audit observations made by COA before making any conclusion.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself has ordered the DOH to explain the deficiencies enumerated in the COA report, Velasco noted.

In its report, COA flagged various deficiencies in the DOH’s management of pandemic funds, with P66.28 billion attributed to alleged non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations.

The audit body later clarified that the report itself did not mention any findings of funds lost to corruption and that the DOH still has time to comply and rectify it.

The DOH had insisted the fund is accounted for and it is already addressing the compliance issues and deficiencies pointed out by COA.

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