9 DOH execs begin serving suspension

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star
9 DOH execs begin serving suspension

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) said its nine officials allegedly involved in the questionable procurement of COVID-19 pandemic supplies from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. will not be reporting for work starting Monday.

Earlier, the Office of the Ombudsman suspended 32 former and present officials of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the DOH for their alleged involvement in the pandemic supplies mess.

The health officials covered by the suspension were Nestor Santiago Jr., Assistant Secretary, Public Services Team; Crispinita Valdez, Director IV, Procurement Service; Amado Tandoc, head, Laboratory Research Division, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; Lei Lanna Dancel, Dave Tangcalagan, Jhobert Bernal, Kenneth Aristotle Punzalan, Rose Marasigan, and Maria Carmela Reyes, Supply Chain Management Service, all of DOH-RITM.

All are holding permanent position in the department except for Valdez who is retired, and Reyes who is under a job order scheme.

Though it still expressed support to these officials, the DOH, in a statement, said they are committed to comply with the directives of the Ombudsman.

“We will just be following the order of the Ombudsman. So by Monday, they will not be going to work anymore,” said the DOH. “Rest assured that the DOH will cooperate in the investigation and will continuously uphold all due processes as mandated by the Office of the Ombudsman and the government of the Philippines.”

The DOH also said that despite the suspension order by the Ombudsman, it continues to have faith in the integrity of the officials and employees of the department.

“These officials have been with the agency for decades, and we continue to recognize their service, sacrifice, and commitment to the Filipino people,” said the DOH. “The DOH vouches for the integrity of these officials, who have played significant roles in the country’s COVID-19 response.”

The DOH defended the officials, saying they are not involved in the actual procurement process of COVID-19 pandemic supplies. The agency likewise said “the preventive suspension should not be seen as conviction, but rather a legal procedure done to avoid influence of the individuals in question.”

“We ask the public to reserve judgment and keep an open mind until the investigation has been resolved,” the DOH said.

This came after Pharmally bagged more than P11.5 billion worth of government health care supply contracts from 2020 to 2021 during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Also among those suspended was Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong, who has started serving the six-month preventive suspension.

Liong, however, said that while he will abide by the suspension order, he had no involvement in the alleged anomalies though it supposedly happened during his stint as PS-DBM procurement group director.

“I fully respect the Office of the Ombudsman as an institution, including its staff and officials. This is a difficult time for me and for us in the Ombudsman. Nonetheless, it is my responsibility to speak the truth and clear my name,” Liong said in a statement written in Filipino released to reporters by his lawyer, Rafael Vicente Calinisan.

In a text message to The STAR, Ombudsman Samuel Martires confirmed that Liong received a copy of the order on Wednesday and started serving his suspension yesterday.

Martires said the ombudsman is now conducting a separate preliminary investigation on a criminal complaint, still in connection with the procurement mess allegedly involving the former and incumbent officials of the PS-DBM, DOH and Pharmally.

Look into the mastermind

Sen. Risa Hontiveros is also hoping that the anti-graft body will look into the masterminds behind the modus, as she hailed the suspension order as a “sweet initial victory” for Filipino people.

“It really feels like a very sweet initial victory. (This is) vindication to the various stakeholders here in our health sector and I’m only so glad and very grateful again that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was part of this,” said Hontiveros, referring to the committee’s investigation in the Pharmally mess.

“My hope is that the investigation will also look into the masterminds behind this modus, well beyond the foot soldiers and mid-level officials,” said Hontiveros in a press conference via Zoom yesterday. “Although the Ombudsman order only covers the COVID-19 test kits, we look forward to an investigation of the PPEs and other overpriced procurements.” – with Elizabeth Marcelo, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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