POSTSCRIPT / August 22, 2021 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Du30 flight passing thru turbulent area

RETURN to your seats and fasten your seatbelts! The evacuation flight piloted by Digong Duterte is passing through a turbulent area!

The turbulence appears to be caused by cross-currents that the pilot had stirred when he chose to fly through bad political weather while in full control of the aircraft, passengers and all, loaded with billions of pesos intended to be used to ride out a raging pandemic on the ground.

Could the choppy cross-current bring down the Duterte administration plane? Hope not. While the state aircraft was designed to withstand extreme shearing forces, survival depends largely on the pilot – how qualified he is to maneuver it safely to a post-pandemic normal situation.

Aside from the rough ride, many problems manifested themselves only when the aircraft was already on its way. Disturbing beeps and red lights kept popping up, and most passengers have begun praying. The pilot himself has had himself prayed over by the “son of god” no less.

The warning signs have been flashing faster after the Commission on Audit flagged on Wednesday a P67.32-billion deficiency on the fund utilization in 2020 of the Department of Health as it moved to roll back the spread and salve the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COA attributed a P66.28-billion deficiency to “non-compliance of pertinent laws and rules and regulations”. Auditors noted that DoH financial statements did not “present fairly in all material respects” its financial position “and cast doubts on the regularity of related transactions.”

More details coming out in the inquiry being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee had intensified public discussion on the questioned use of health department funds, especially in light of the pandemic where every peso counts.

Sidenote: The DoH reported Friday 17,231 new COVID-19 infections, the biggest single-day count since the pandemic hit the country. The addition brought the total number of cases in the country to 1,807,800 with total deaths now 31,198, making the Philippines second-ranked (behind Indonesia) in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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WHILE the COA merely asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque to take action on its critical audit report, many officials and taxpayers demanded that he resign.

An emotional Duque explained that he could not just leave his job. His body language tells us he cannot quit, especially with the unqualified support given him by Duterte. He has to stay and take the rap, if any, otherwise the shit would splatter all the way up to the President.

It is interesting, and alarming, that while the President had said that even just a “whiff of corruption” in an office would trigger immediate action from him, now he – one sworn to execute the law – is telling officials under him to just ignore COA’s reports and questions.

A statement of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines on the topic is on point:

“Public auditors are a key element in good governance and fulfill an invaluable public service – informing the people how their money was spent.

“The constitutional duty of the COA is to ‘examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of (public) funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities. ( Sec. 2[1], Art. IX-D).xxx

“We submit that rather than criticizing the COA and its auditors, the Department of Health should instead cooperate with them and explain the ‘deficiencies’ and submit documentation or supporting papers to explain its side.”

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POST-AUDIT and analysis by non-government experts have shown curious items. For instance, the vaccination program has been slow and uneven, hobbled by desultory procurement and a bias for a particular brand that is not as effective as the others and is even more costly.

At the rate the inoculation is being carried out with a focus on the more densely populated urban areas, herd immunity – which needs at least 70 percent full vaccination of the total population – may not be achieved before the yearend as promised.

Some 12.9 million Filipinos, or only 11.9 percent of the population, have been fully vaccinated. Despite the turbulence occasioned by the COA audit, congressional inquiries, and public dismay, the vaccination task force led by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. says they are on track.

There is also the scandal of a big supply of face shields and surgical masks bought for P95 million at prices that were above prevailing rates, but which are now reportedly just piled up in bodegas.

The oversupply may explain why people are being compelled to wear face shields (on top of the masks) even while scientific studies have shown that they do not block air-borne fine particles. On the contrary, the air trapped inside sucks in microorganisms and dust.

Then while critical payments such as the risk allowances of many public health workers are not given on time, the DOH parked P2 billion of its 2020 pandemic response funds at the Department of Budget and Management. The amount has not been used and will likely revert to the treasury.

The amount is believed to be among portions of funds of executive offices that are chopped off, transferred and hidden for contingences such as election campaign spending.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 22, 2021)

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