I FIND it despicable for Sen. Richard Gordon and the Yellow stragglers in the Senate to be ganging up on the Health department and its secretary for allegedly mismanaging funds intended to fight the pandemic.
For chrissakes, not at this time, guys, when we are moving toward the darkest night of the pandemic, with daily infections of at least 10,000 in the past two weeks and likely to get worse as the new, more communicable Delta variant spreads.
Don’t these senators know that whether they like its secretary Francisco Duque 3rd or not, the Department of Health (DoH) is our vanguard fighting Covid-19?
Don’t they understand by now that President Duterte is not one to be swayed by the Senate and even by public opinion? Duque will be there until the end of Duterte’s term, so no way for the pharma syndicates you might know he stopped DoH from dealing with, to return.
What Gordon and his gang have been doing is like summoning generals to the Senate during a battle, say with jihadists in Marawi, accusing them of corruption, that they hadn’t bought enough bullets fast enough, or worse, that they’re overpricing bullets.
And it will have the same impact: the soldiers in that analogy and the huge workforce of frontliners of the DoH will lose morale in fighting their foes. And of course, the masses waiting for their vaccinations will be so angry over the headlines that the DoH hasn’t been releasing funds allocated to it to fight the pandemic.
There is a time for such investigations, but certainly not now. The Commission on Audit (CoA) report, on which they based their allegations, is there and all the documents it used are there. They won’t get lost. I don’t think Duque and his officials will be fleeing the country. They’ll make better use of their time if they find ways to concretely help government fight the pandemic, not to throw mud at it at this time.
Why can’t Gordon and his gang of inquisitors wait until after the pandemic has passed?
Because of two reasons. First, such investigations won’t make it to the newspapers’ front page, Gordon won’t get a quorum for his committee meetings when the pandemic ends, and it will. Going by the two-year duration of the influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919, my bet is that it will end March next year. And whatever their shortcomings, people will be praising the DoH and Duque for their good work, deserved or not, as long as we don’t see mass graves on the scale of India or Indonesia.
Second, elections are just nine months away, and Gordon as well as the likes of Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan will have to spend hundreds of millions again to win another term, or to seek higher office. Covid-19 is the biggest problem facing the nation next year, and Gordon is trying hard to portray himself as the champion against the misuse of Covid funds. To be always quoted on the front pages on this issue, will trim off a lot from his campaign budget.
Why am I being so unkind to impute such motives? One, his language at the hearing is so obviously, sickeningly politicking. For instance, he tells Duque: “I consider you a good friend, but my loyalty is to my country first.” Can’t he even think of a less used cliché?
Second, I found Sen. Mary Grace Poe’s allegations so nasty, claiming, merely on the basis of the CoA report she does not understand – “Secretary Duque should be suspended by now.” What? A senator who even thought she could be president of the Republic, unaware of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty?”
What makes these senators’ persecution of Duque so despicable is that all of them know, having been in government for so long, what CoA reports are, how many of its so-called adverse findings are easily corrected subsequently. This is because a common problem is that documents are submitted on the very strict year-end deadline set by the auditors, which is during the Christmas season. After the last working day of the year in December, the auditor closes shop so that no additional documents are accepted. He or she retreats somewhere to pore over the documents to come up with a report by the middle of the year.
I don’t think the CoA has ever issued an auditors’ “opinion” praising the management’s book, or an “unqualified opinion.” There is an internal dynamic here, as I found out when I headed two government offices a decade ago. The auditor thinks that his superior will suspect him of being in cahoots with the office he is auditing if he or she issues an “unqualified opinion.” On the other hand, if he is unscrupulous, he’ll make things so strict for the office, so they’ll have to be “kind” to him. Maybe the use of a brand-new SUV issued to the office?
Indeed, seeing how its report is being unscrupulously used to condemn Duque and his DoH, the CoA for the first time ever issued a statement to clarify its audit of that department:
“Some of the findings of deficiencies involving Covid-19 funds amounting to P67.3 billion resulted from the non-submission of documentation or supporting papers, which the DoH may still submit in compliance with the auditor’s recommendation. Of the P 67.3 billion, P42.4 billion consisted of fund transfers to procurement/implementing partner-agencies without the required documentation. There is no finding that this amount cannot be accounted for. The breakdown of the P67.3 billion and the deficiencies found are clearly explained in Annexes IV and V of the Consolidated Annual Audit Report of the DoH.”
The CoA pointed out: “As there are recommendations for compliance by the DoH, the audit process for the deficiencies pointed out has not been completed. Hence, it is premature at this stage to make conclusions on the findings in the Consolidated Annual Audit Report.” (Emphasis mine.)
What irks me is that Gordon and his gang know for a fact that one reason for the alleged non-distribution by all of the DoH of Covid-19 funds is the fact that the Bayanihan 2 law which authorized the use of these funds (such as the “special risk allowance” for nurses) was approved only on Sept. 11, 2020, with the budget department releasing it only on October 30, principally because of the regulation that it takes effect only 30 days after the publication in a newspaper of the law as well as of its implementing rules and regulations. And wasn’t it the Senate that didn’t rush the enactment of the Bayanihan 2 law?
The DoH had only two months to disburse it, as a law was passed only in January 2021 to extend the disbursement of the funds allocated.
Gordon obviously has joined the Yellows in what they think is the issue that could prevent a Duterte 2.0 administration: Not just President Duterte’s alleged incompetence in addressing the pandemic but corruption in his lead agency combating Covid-19. I think you should start kicking this Gordon in the butt, Mr. President, and tag him to your “DDS” corps so he’ll just have to work full-time as Philippine Red Cross president after May 2022.
The forever Yellow paper the Philippine Daily Inquirer is up and about as the manifesto of the Yellows. What kind of newspaper would have as its subhead for an article that involves a lot of technical aspects the following: “The health secretary goes into near-meltdown at the Senate blue ribbon inquiry, in the course of trying to deflect blame from his department for health-care workers’ long-delayed special risk allowances and other benefits.” Meltdown means collapse, which means Duterte admitting to the accusations. He certainly didn’t.
Duterte of course saw through this new Yellow campaign, and blew his top, and directed his ire at the CoA. I think he should rather direct his wrath towards Gordon and his gang, who are merely distorting the CoA’s reports. Duterte also discerned that the mudslinging is aimed not just at the DoH and Duque but at his administration. He should order the DOH and other departments not to attend such hearings, which are not in aid of legislation but for the black propaganda of opposition.
The DoH is not blameless, however. While it may be due to the fact that it is perhaps the most overworked department at this time, it cannot shirk from its responsibility to debunk the senators’ accusations point by point, especially as they are using in their accusations terms that are unfamiliar to the public.
This all-out campaign of the Yellows to throw dirt at the DoH demonstrates the depths of immorality they will go down to in their desperate attempt to regain power in 2022. Gordon is such a disappointment for being involved in this vile scheme. Or has Covid-19, which he contracted last month, affected his mind, without him knowing?
With this Senate demonstrating such low disregard for our country when facing the pandemic crisis, it is really time, as a priority for the next administration, to amend the Constitution to dissolve this chamber of 24 megalomaniacs.