If previous actions of the Office of the Ombudsman were to be followed, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III should have been suspended over the deficiencies in the management of P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, Sen. Grace Poe said Wednesday.
Poe recalled how Ombudsman Samuel Martires last year ordered the preventive suspension of some PhilHealth and DOH officials for various offenses related to the use of public funds to address the pandemic.
"Today, we take it further and raise the question which still hasn’t been answered despite numerous probes in the past. Shouldn’t Secretary Duque be suspended by now if we are going to apply the same judgements as what happened to the PhilHealth execs?" she asked her fellow senators at a hearing.
Duque has been under fire after the Commission on Audit flagged deficiencies in the use of COVID-19 funds, which it said "contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DOH during the time of state of calamity/national emergency."
Among the deficiencies that state auditors found in its audit of COVID-19 funds are the P11.89 billion unobligated allotments as of Dec. 31, 2020 that were meant to strengthen the DOH's capacity to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poe said the fact that these funds have been left unobligated was not only negligence on the part of the DOH, but also "criminal."
"The fact that we can’t even go out of our homes, are we happy with what is happening? Are the medical frontliners happy with what is happening with them? Somebody must be held accountable," she said.
Duque on Tuesday cried foul over the COA's findings, saying he and other DOH officials had been sleepless since it came out in the public.
"Winarak na ninyo kami eh. Winarak na ninyo ang dangal ng DOH. Winarat ninyo ang lahat ng mga kasama ko dito. Hindi kami makaharap sa mga tao dahil lahat, ang dami-daming sinasabi, ang dami-daming paratang," he told House lawmakers.
Senators Richard Gordon and Risa Hontiveros, however, called out Duque over his remark, saying that COA was only doing its job.
"Hindi dapat tayo nagwawala na winarak sila. Sorry, Sec. Duque, I do not agree with your statement na winarak kayo. Ginawa ng COA ang tungkulin nila at kayo ay may pagkakataon na sumagot at ayusin yung mga gusot na nakita sa inyo," Gordon said.
"Lahat po tayo dito ay halos wala nang tulog. Hindi ito pa-contest ng kung sinong ahensya ang may mas maraming ginagawa at kung sino ang pinakapagod at nakakaawa. Ito ay usapin ng pananagutan; ng pagtupad sa mga pangako," Hontiveros added.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday revealed that Duque had attempted to resign from his post twice, but he wouldn't accept it as he believes the health secretary wasn't doing anything wrong.