Audit findings into DOH casts doubt on its ability to respond to pandemic

With deliberations into the next year’s national budget underway, Senator Joel Villanueva reiterated the importance of budget utilization, pointing out the audit findings into the Department of Health (DOH) places a lot of uncertainty on its ability to mitigate the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country.

“We are in the middle of the biggest health emergency to date. We need the DOH to step up and take charge,” Villanueva said in his opening remarks on Friday during the 3rd hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probing into the audit findings on the DOH’s budget spending.

“Issues pertaining to the mismanagement of government funds, including underspending, obligating funds without disbursing, and releasing of funds to various entities without sufficient documentation, among other issues, are unacceptable,” he continued. “We’re certain that the findings of the Blue Ribbon Committee will have an impact on the upcoming deliberations on the DOH budget.”

Under the National Expenditure Program that the government submitted to Congress early this week, the DOH is proposing a P242-billion budget for 2022, a 15.1% increase from its 2021 budget of P210.2 billion, Villanueva pointed out.

“The mismanagement of government funds by any agency especially the DOH at this point in time casts doubt on the quality and quantity of provision of much-needed health and social responses during this pandemic,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, emphasized the need for the DOH to conduct a mass hiring of health professionals to fill up vacant plantilla positions in the agency. Health department data showed that some 10,157 personnel were hired under the department’s emergency hiring program under contract of service. However, it has yet to fill up 13,659 vacant plantilla or regular positions, the lawmaker pointed out.

“Paulit-ulit po nating sinasabi simula pa noong 2016 na dapat punuin ang plantilla positions ng mga ahensiya ng gobyerno,” Villanueva said. “DOH should expand its mass hiring in plantilla positions and give our workers security of tenure – hindi pwedeng 3 months lamang. Bigyan po natin sila ng dignidad na magkaroon ng seguridad sa kanilang trabaho.”