By Lance Arevada


President Rodrigo Duterte has once again defended Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III and said he would refuse any attempts of the secretary to resign amid fresh calls for his resignation after state auditors flagged deficiencies in the DOH’s management of COVID-19 response funding worth P67 billion.

In his Talk to the People on Monday, Duterte revealed that the health secretary already attempted to resign twice, but he still insisted on keeping him in his position as he believed Duque did not commit any wrongdoing.

“Alam ko gusto mo nang mag-resign, pero alam mo rin na tatanggihan kita ngayon. Noon you have attempted to resign twice. I expect you to say something to me after this, mag-resign ka. Sabihin ko sa iyo, hindi. Wala ka namang ginagawang masama,” the President said.

The renewed calls for the embattled DOH chief to step down come as the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed in its 2020 report that his agency did not comply with existing rules and regulations in managing P67.323 billion worth of funds intended for pandemic response.

Some of those flagged by state auditors were expenditures worth P5 billion that were reported to be not properly documented, P1.405 billion worth of in-kind donations not properly accounted for, and at least P69.9 million worth of unutilized medical equipment and supplies meant for COVID-19 response.

"These deficiencies contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DOH during the time of state of calamity/national emergency, and casted doubts on the regularity of related transactions," the report said.

Still, the President insisted the findings as “pure bullshit” especially on the issue if funds intended for pandemic response have been stolen.

“Pag mag-ano ang COA, magsabi lang ‘yan siya deficiency na mga gano’n gano’n, hindi man sabihin na deficiency na ninakaw mo ‘yung pera....Imposible magnakaw ka ng 67.3 [billion],” he added.

Meanwhile, Duque in a statement insisted that there is no corruption on the DOH’s management of COVID-19 funds and that they were all “accounted for.” 

"Rest assured, that the funds allotted to the DOH are all spent for the procurement of test kits, PPEs, payment of HCWs benefits, salaries of HRH among others," he said.

Duque added: "Bukas po ang aming tanggapan at handa po kaming ipakita sa ating mga kababayan na tama ang paggastos ng kanilang mga taxes."

This is the third time for the President to reject calls for his health secretary to resign, following a Senate resolution last year for the DOH chief to step down over the country’s failed pandemic response and the P15-billion corruption allegation on state insurer Philhealth in which Duque is also the chairman of the board.