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Duterte’s health chief stands by controversial pandemic fund transfer

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

OUTGOING Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III on Monday stood by a decision to pass on coronavirus response funds to the Budget department’s procurement service at the start of the pandemic, a transfer that became controversial due to questionable supply contracts awarded to a company owned by personalities with links to the President.  

“No regrets,” Mr. Duque told ABS-CBN News Channel. “There’s no evidence of wrongdoing.”  

The deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. were the subject of a Senate committee investigation, but the final report that implicated President Rodrigo R. Duterte did not get majority support from the chamber.   

“I would not have done that differently,” Mr. Duque said. “I trusted the institution. I did not trust personalities,” said Mr. Duque, who had faced resignation calls over his handling of the pandemic response.   

The Senate last week released the top executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical  who were detained for months after being cited in contempt for failing to provide documents relating to their supply contracts with the government.   

A Senate committee responsible for probing graft and corruption began its investigation into the government’s pandemic transactions after state auditors found deficiencies in the Health department’s handling of COVID-19 funds.  

In hearings, senators had repeatedly questioned the Health department for transferring about P42 billion to the procurement service agency under the Budget department for the purchase of pandemic supplies. Pharmally secured more than P8.6 billion worth of contracts in 2020.  

Senator Franklin M. Drilon, one of the senators who backed the inquiry, said the outgoing health official “should hire a good lawyer” because he is a “principal by indispensable cooperation.” 

“The Procurement Service- Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) could not have committed the plunder without the P42 billion Health funds being illegally transferred, without any documentation, to PS-DBM,” he said in a statement.    

Another legislator, Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” L. Pimentel III, said the committee’s 113-page report speaks for itself when asked to comment on Mr. Duque’s remarks. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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