At the plenary debates in Senate, Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Chairman Senator Richard Gordon threatened to block Department of Health’s (DOH) proposed 2021 budget as he raised the issue of a botched P3.5-billion project intended to build over 3,000 barangay health stations in 2016.

In 2018, JBros Construction Corporation terminated the contract and billed the DOH P2.9 billion after building only 270 barangay health stations. Incumbent DOH Secretary Duque blamed the matter on “very defective planning” by his predecessor, Janette Garin.

Senator Pia Cayetano defended the agency’s proposed budget but Gordon said: “I am shocked. I am chagrined. This is really swindling the country. What is now the update on the barangay health centers, nabawi na ba natin ‘yung pera? Do you agree that there was corruption here? There was corruption? I want that on the record stated by the Department of Health.”

Gordon warned to stop the agency’s budget “if they themselves cannot admit that they’ve been hoodwinked, especially since Duque has already said that this was a badly planned exercise and that money was lost by the government.”

Duque leaned over to Cayetano who then conveyed his response. “The answer is ‘yes.’ The secretary is responding behind me, and he said, ‘Yes,’” the senator said.

In September, the Senate recommended the filing of malversation and graft charges against Duque and other officials over the allegations of corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Senators affirmed that Duque, resigned PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales, and other executive officers of the state insurer should be charged with malversation and graft for the “improper and illegal implementation” of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has repeatedly defended and vouched for the DOH chief, saying he trusts Duque despite the numerous accusations thrown against him.

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