Protestant council backs probe into alleged fund anomaly in Philippine health department

“The president should stop being defensive and verbally harassing senators in doing their work and mandate,” said the council

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) expressed support for an investigation by the country’s Senate into the alleged misuse of funds for COVID-19 response.

“The Filipino people deserves nothing but the truth. The government owes it to us, the people, whom the government is claiming to serve,” said Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP general secretary, in a statement released on Monday, September 6.

“[President Rodrigo Duterte] should stop being defensive and verbally harassing senators in doing their work and mandate,” added the Protestant bishop.

“The defensive and condescending reactions from Duterte himself and his allies … are a threat to the principle of checks and balances enshrined at the very core of our Constitution,” said Bishop Marigza.

The blue ribbon committee of the Philippine Senate is currently looking into the purchase of what are supposed to be “overpriced” Personal Protective Equipment sets worth 1,910 pesos each for a total of 3.82 billion pesos.

The government’s Commission on Audit (COA) also flagged six companies in its audit in 2020 when the health department purchased expensive masks and face shields.

The Protestant bishop noted that the country is now “reeling” from 33,448 deaths due to COVID-19.

“These questionable purchases are an affront to Filipinos who are expecting that their taxes are judiciously spent by the government,” said Bishop Marigza.

“Many Filipinos would have benefitted if only these funds were rightfully appropriated for the service of the people” he said.

“Up until now, our medical frontliners are still waiting and fighting for their allowances and hazard pays. They have arduously sacrificed and served our people during this pandemic,” said the bishop.

“We support the popular clamor to demand accountability from the [Department of Health], and for [Health Secretary Francisco] Duque to step down,” added the bishop in his statement.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines’ main building in Quezon City. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

“We would like to remind President Duterte that his repeated refusal to fire Secretary Duque has enabled him and his ilks to fester in their positions,” said Bishop Marigza.

“The unholy deals with companies with questionable backgrounds at the expense of the suffering Filipino people must be stopped,” he said.

In an earlier statement, the NCCP lauded the COA for its findings and “for bringing out the report to the open.”

In its 2020 report, the COA found deficiencies in how the health department managed its fund to fight the pandemic, adding that it contributed to challenges that the country faced during the health crisis.

Aside from the COA report, the blue ribbon investigation will also cover other issues related to health department’s budget utilization, with a particular focus on its pandemic spending.

The Protestant council stressed that part of a healthy and transparent governance is maintaining the independence of the government branches in the exercise of carrying out its lawful mandate.

“It is in this light that we pray that the Senate continue its investigation until the truth comes out, accountability is served, and justice is exacted,” said Bishop Marigza, adding that the people “deserve to know the truth.”

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