Ombudsman to subpoena DOH, DBM for documents on special budget for COVID-19 response
Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Friday said they will issue a subpoena to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Department of Health (DOH) for documents in relation to the special budget allotted by President Rodrigo Duterte for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response.
“Today, we will issue a subpoena to the Department of Budget and Management, to the Department of Health, particularly with respect to the special allotment request order on the budget given by the President (Rodrigo Duterte) for the frontliners who died, for the budget given for COVID-19 (response),” Martires said in a TV interview.
He said the letter will be addressed directly to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.
“We want to know where they used the money, how long before they give the aid to the family of frontliners who’ve died or those who are infected by the virus. Where is the fund right now,” the Ombudsman said.
Martires also clarified that DOH should not claim they were “caught by surprise” over their investigation as they first communicated with the office of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
“The first office that we caledl is the office of Undersecretary Vergeire… what the executive assistant of the undersecretary said is that the undersecretary is on a meeting and we are referred to the RITM (Research Institute of Tropical Medicine). The RITM told us to talk to the Secretary… we called up also the office of Secretary Duque, again, someone said he is on a meeting,” he said.
The official told DOH to change their staff if their claim is they were not informed about the investigation.
“I think they have to change their staff because everything that happens in your office, if you’re not in your office, must be communicated by your staff. That’s why they cannot say ‘we were caught by surprise’,” Martires said.
Martires said they are used to excuses and answers like “no crimes committed” and they “will get in the way of their job”.
“We just want them to be truthful. Let’s be honest towards ourselves, it will help… They have an idea that they are being investigated by the Ombudsman,” he said.
“You always have soldiers to do it for you. The initial approach of our investigation is just to gather some documents so I think the good undersecretary can just order their subordinates… we are not yet asking them that they should answer (our) questions,” he said.
“We are not demanding much of their time. These things that we are going to ask from DOH can be done by a mere clerk… unless we would like to sanitize the documents. That is why the head of office or one in charge must look into the documents before they release it to us,” Martires added.
Martires said he does not think that someone from the health department is lying but he thinks they are keeping something from the public.
“The mere fact that they are saying ‘we are trying to make it better’, that is already an admission that what they are doing now is not really good” he said.
On the DOH employees being affected by the issue, Martires reminded the DOH that they should also think of the situation of the public.
“I would like to say that are the people not also suffering from low morale because we cannot even go out of our homes? Are the medical frontliners happy with what is happening to them? That is what I want to ask, why they are only speaking of themselves, why don’t they think of the good of everyone?,” he asked.
He said what his office wants to find out is the one responsible for all the anomalies and irregularities in DOH's response to the pandemic.
“That is what we know. Who is responsible for all this? Someone must be held accountable… wrong timing? How can we investigate on something that is not yet happening?,” Martires said.
Last Wednesday, Martires ordered for the creation of two more investigation teams that will jointly probe the irregularities and anomalies committed by DOH on the delayed of the procurement of Physical Protective Equipment (PPE), and other medical gears for health workers; the alleged lapses and irregularities that led to the death and infection of health workers; inaction in the release and processing of benefits and financial assistance for health workers; and confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 related deaths and cases.
This team is in addition to the ones they created last March 15, who are investigating DOH's purchase of 100,000 test kits and the use of invented test kits by the University of the Philippines. Ella Dionisio/DMS