"We, the people, will suffer the consequences of the Health Secretary’s folly."
Last Monday, US President Biden told Americans and the world that he did not regret his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan rapidly, incompetently and, yes, stealthily (as in the case of the midnight departure from Bagram Airbase). As the Wall Street Journal so graphically noted, Biden was "determined in retreat, defiant in surrender and confident in the rightness of consiging the country to Jihadist rule."
Yet even as he muttered that the buck stops with him, he immediately turned around and blamed others for the utterly chaotic and disastrous withdrawal, leaving thousands of Americans and their allies, including Filipinos and other nationalities working with the various embassies and contractors as well as Afghans who risked their lives working and enabling the US led coalition to stay in that country for 20 years.
Biden blamed his predecessor, Donald Trump, for a problematic peace deal with the Taliban which he said he was trapped to continue. He blamed the Bush, Obama and, yes, Trump regimes for not getting out early enough to end "America's longest war." He blamed the Afghans for not fighting hard enough and those who worked with the coalition for not leaving sooner before the fall of Kabul. In a word, he blamed everybody except himself and the Taliban who were precisely ousted by the US led coalition for harboring the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing.
Meanwhile, our Health Secretary, Francisco Duque III, behaved exactly like Biden in defending his agency from public criticism over questionable transactions amounting to P67 billion over the past year flagged by the Commission on Audit (CoA).
The audit observation report noted that the DoH under Duque's watch has yet to explain properly and responsibly billions of pesos in transactions including, but not limited to, payment of undelivered materials, overpricing of purchases of medical equipment and supplies and, worse, as pointed out by Senator Imee Marcos, the transfer of P42 billion from the DoH to the Procurement Service without any accompanying documentation.
On top of that — and this one takes the cake — the non-payment of salaries, allowances and hazard work incentives to the thousands of health workers all over the country. No wonder we have continuing " lack of personnel" problems in many of our hospitals, both public (national and LGU funded) and private.
Eerily similar to the Biden statements, Duque was quoted as having said "You can be assured that no money went to corruption. None was stolen, I am sure of that." Well, he was asked about the P42 billion "transfer" and all the senators could get was a sigh as Duque gazed blankly at the Zoom participants as if not hearing anything at all. The senators could only shake their heads in disbelief.
The embattled Duque took another tack in the previous day's hearing at the House of Representatives. On the verge of tearing up, he immediately went on the offensive accusing CoA in no uncertain terms of being reckless and irresponsible as the audit body did not give them any chance to explain the agency's side.
Said the teary eyed Duque: " Niyurakan nyo kami. Niyurakan nyo ang reputasyon ng DoH. Hindi na kami makakaharap sa tao at pinahiya nyo na kami sa mga maling akusasyon. Hindi ako nakakatulog. Talagang matindi, marahas at di makatao ang inyong ginawa." ( You destroyed us. You destroyed the reputation of the DoH. You destroyed the reputation of all my colleagues at the DoH. We can't face the people because you have shamed us with all your accusations. It's really unfair, unjust."
The problem is Duque was utterly dishonest in pinning the blame on the audit body. As CoA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo correctly pointed out, the auditors gave Duque and company all the time and opportunities to explain the observed questionable transactions. Recognizing the effect of the pandemic,instead of the usual 60-day period to explain the said transactions, DoH was given six months.
Duque also shamelessly claimed that he has already "downloaded and released" the special risk allowances and other stipends due health workers under the Bayanihan acts. To this claim, Jao Clumia, President of the St. Luke's Medical Center Employees Association, emphatically said that Duque was lying through his teeth.
To think that early on, Duque and company have been called out for exactly the same issues before: Overpricing, questionable payments for undelivered items, non-release of salaries, allowances and other stipends to health workers, billions of unobligated funds, among others.
This sorry spectacle of Duque’s shameless denials, passing any responsibility to others,whining and tearing up will continue to haunt the administration even after it signs off and maybe even after the pandemic has receded to being endemic. By then, he will turn out to be, like Biden, the butt of jokes among the best comedians in town. Sadly, we the people will suffer the consequences of his folly.