Spotlight on COA: Rappler calls attention to DOH deficiencies in its pandemic response

CHEERS TO Rappler for pointing out how state auditors exposed the Duterte administration’s incompetence and negligence in its pandemic response.

Media echoed public approval and experts who lauded COA for flagging possible corruption in various agencies over the past week. But after both chambers held congressional hearings on the issue, primetime newscasts and the front pages of major daily broadsheets shifted their attention to other matters.

Commendably, Rappler’s report last August 17 went beyond just reporting on subsequent developments. It called attention to the immediate impact of COA’s findings. Reporter Lian Buan recalled the agency’s role in exposing government anomalies and stressed how the agency’s audit reports have “fuel[ed] the outrage of Filipinos at their wit’s end with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The online report detailed the most glaring discrepancies noted in the COA reports that led to “missed opportunities” in the government’s, specifically, DOH’s pandemic response. Amid hospitals’ critical care utilization rates, Buan reported that DOH failed to spend foreign aid funds worth PHP3-billion intended for the purchase of ventilators. Even more alarming, the report highlighted how the health department failed to distribute PHP11-billion worth of funds for the hazard pay and special risk allowances of medical frontliners which led to protests and calls for mass resignation in the health sector. 

Citing Heidi Mendoza, former COA commissioner and internal auditor of the United Nations, the report also questioned DOH’s PHP98 million worth of unliquidated cash advances. Buan pointed out the budget department’s purchase of face masks and face shields imported from China, by the DBM Procurement Service when it was still headed by Lloyd Christopher Lao, a former Palace aide to Senator Bong Go.

Rappler quoted Rhodora Ugay, supervising auditor, who was asked during a hearing at the lower chamber whether DOH’s handling of funds affected the surge of cases. Referring to the PHP11.89-billion worth of unobligated funds that was supposed to cover healthcare workers benefits, Ugay said “[It] is not a small amount,” and that it will indeed affect the “efficiency of the delivery of health care services.” 

Rappler went on to underscore the relevance of COA, recalling how the agency has played a vital role in exposing corruption such as the pork barrel scam and Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. Buan, however, noted that while their audit reports were just as important before the pandemic, “they were easier to ignore back then.” 

In the face of a crisis that the administration has not been able to manage, COA’s report proves that the failure is actually the government’s. As government scrambles to save face, media should keep shining light on government’s moves, tracking the extent of official negligence. 

Rappler’s recent podcasts on COA: