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Unobligated, unforgivable

A Commission on Audit report has found that that the Department of Health failed to spend P59.125 billion of its 2020 budget whilst a pandemic was raging in the country, depriving Filipinos of access to much needed basic healthcare services.

“These billions worth of public funds could have saved many lives if only these were translated into meaningful programs, activities and projects during states of calamity/national emergency,” COA said in its 2020 annual audit report on the DOH released on Wednesday.

In the same report, the COA also noted several “deficiencies” in the DOH’s utilization of P67.323 billion in Covid-19 funds, including an unspent P11.89 billion intended for the procurement of various medical equipment and supplies and hiring of additional health workers.

The audit report exposed massive DOH inefficiency in the management of its Covid-19 funds drawn from Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1), RA 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), and even in spending its entire budget for the year allocated under RA 11465, or the General Appropriations Act of 2020.

The unobligated funds plus the unpaid obligations total P59.125 billion in unspent budget, an amount that the COA said was “very material and more than enough” to affect the DOH’s level of efficiency to respond to “urgent healthcare needs during the time of state of calamity/national emergency.”

“The billions of pesos in the coffers of the DOH that have remained not obligated and disbursed as of yearend, and funds that were reverted back to the national treasury are counter-beneficial to the Department’s continuing efforts towards ensuring access to basic public health services to all Filipinos, further buttressing the health care delivery system, and most importantly controlling the spread of Covid-19 through provision of quality health services,” COA said.

It would be a different story if the Philippines was blessed with a health department that found the ways and means to respond efficiently and appropriately to the Covid-19 pandemic while saving billions of pesos, but given the state of the country after more than 500 days of a poorly managed response that could’ve been better had it used the available funds, the apathy and incompetence that led to the failure to properly use the funds when they are needed most should be unforgivable.

Is anyone going to be held responsible for this monumental failure or are we just going to allow our leaders to make up some silly excuse or joke while sweeping it under the rug?*

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