’Billions’ worth of corrupt practices in Philippine health department now under scrutiny

Philippine health secretary Francisco Duque III has launched a wide-ranging probe into what could be a multi-billion peso irregularity in one of the department’s major projects: the construction of school-based Barangay Health Stations (BHS).

"Heads will roll. Big names, small names, past and present. There will be no sacred cows,” he said.

BHS units, accredited by PhilHealth, are designed to ensure access of every barangay to primary health care, using public elementary schools as identified sites.

Duque said what prompted him to look into the allegations were the following factors: (1) reports on alleged anomalies in the procurement process; (2) recent adverse findings by the Commission on Audit; and (3) health officials recommending payment without validation and financial document requirements.

In April, the DOH Executive Committee was directed to convene a Task Force to establish the facts. The Task Force then came up with a report affirming the irregularities earlier cited in a 2017 COA Performance Audit Report, in addition to other malpractices.

“The project establishing 5,700 Barangay Health Stations (BHS) in public schools in 2015 and 2016 was obstructed by ineligible and non-workable project sites that were not fully validated before project contracting and implementation due to absence of specific guidelines. [...] Delayed and non-completion of the total BHS contracted again impacts on the procured equipment which remain idle or undistributed to intended school-based BHS,” states the COA report in part.

Duque has since requested the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct a fact-finding investigation on the matter.

"I am beyond frustrated. I am saddened and disgusted that the Filipino people are being shortchanged by the very people who were supposed to serve them," he said, adding that he has ordered a “thorough review” of all transactions entered into by previous administrations.

The DOH has also submitted pertinent documents to the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), which has issued subpoenas to aid its own parallel investigation. Duque has likewise requested the COA to conduct a fraud audit of the BHS project, as well all other projects included in the Php9.3 billion Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) dated December 29, 2015.