The previous administation of President Aquino gave priority to the release of funds rather than identifying the sites for health clinics under the P8.1-billion barangay health station (BHS) program which points to irregularities in the project, Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said yesterday.
Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health which held an inquiry into the project last Wednesday, said his panel found, for instance, site investigations were done only after the contract was executed and the notice to proceed was issued.
A report by the Commission on Audit (CoA) also revealed numerous sites identified by the Department of Health (DoH) were inappropriate for the project.
In Lipa City, a recently completed health station in a public elementary school had to be demolished to give way to a school gym, he said.
“It was very clear that the priority was on the release of funds more than identifying the locations for the rural health stations. More than 1,000 sites out of the 5,000 sites were unworkable since setting up the project would be impossible,” Ejercito said.
“It was really sad because if properly implemented, the project could have helped in addressing the overcrowding in public hospitals for these barangay health stations could provide primary health care to our people,” he noted.
It was also noted no budget was allotted for the school-based BHS in the 2015 General Appropriations Act.
Garin attempted to use P10.6 billion in unprogrammed funds for the BHS based on her numerous letters to the Department of Budget Management (DBM), he added.
Ejercito also raised the possibility of collusion among DoH officials and the private contractor.
He said irregularity was evident in the project, particularly citing the demand of JBROS Construction Corp., the contractor, for payment of uncompleted BHS units based on findings of a DoH task force.
Ejercito said initially he suspected a collusion among mid-level DoH officials, particularly those involved in the validation of project completion, and JBROS.
The senator noted a huge discrepancy in the number of completed BHS validated by the DoH task force at only 270, compared to 470 units recommended for progress billing in favor of JBROS.
“Those who prepared the validation and recommendations for payment of progress billing…I suspect they are those who were in cahoots with JBROS,” Ejercito said.
During the Senate hearing, engineer Maximo A. Adan Jr. was named as the one who prepared the validation report architect Maria Rebecca Peñafiel as in-charge of checking the report and Dr. Criselda Abesamis as the one who recommended the approval of the billings.
The validation report they made will be the basis for the release of payment for the first progress billing submitted by JBROS amounting to P2.9 billion.
JBROS had received P1.2 billion mobilization fund for the BHS project.
Pressed if the possible collusion stopped with the three, Ejercito replied, “the payment of progress billing, they may be the main players but in the awarding of the project, they are likely higher-ups.”
Similar to Dengvaxia scam
Ejercito likened the BHS project to the P3.6 Dengvaxia immunization project, saying “it is like Dengvaxia, everything was done in haste so problem cropped up!”
Earlier, Ejercito, along with Senate President Vicente Sotto III, had noted the special allotment release order (SARO) issued on Dec. 29, 2015 covering the BHS project was packaged with that of the P3.1 billion Dengvaxia immunization program also by the DoH, under former Health Secretary Janette Garin.
Ejercito, at the same time, underscored poor planning and poor implementation for the BHS project which resulted in the unsatisfactory execution of the project.
The senator said the proponent of the project failed to conduct the necessary consultations with the target schools and barangays. As such, many schools and barangay officials were unaware of the BHS construction.
“Even the principals of the schools where the barangay health stations would stand and the barangay captains of the area where this project will be built were not aware of the project. They would just be surprised when matrials of the contractor start arriving for the construction of the health stations,” he said.
DoJ should also probe
Jose Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), said the DoJ must conduct a probe into the project.
“Veteran investigators needed to be assigned by the DoJ or [by the Office of the] Ombudsman to build [strong and sufficient] evidence on these cases. Otherwise, all we would have are “sounds and furies” and nothing to anchor on legal or factual grounds,” he said.
In this light, there is a big possibility that health officials and their private contractors will get the punishment on the crime they supposedly did, he noted.
Rodolfo Javellana Jr., president of the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC), agreed with Matula, saying “it is a must” because it is their “responsibility” to the public.
Javellana also suggested the DoJ do the same with other irregularities in other government offices.