Ex-DOH chief: Sotto exposé out to discredit RH program

Published by rudy Date posted on May 11, 2011

UPDATED 3:00 p.m. – The exposé of Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III on an alleged P2.6-billion anomaly concerning allocations for family health programs may be part of a preemptive attack against the reproductive health (RH) program, a former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary said on Wednesday.

Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Sotto should have consulted the DOH instead of delivering a speech and seeking a probe on the matter.

Sotto is against the controversial RH bill while Cabral, who served as secretaries of health and social welfare under the Arroyo administration, is an advocate of the bill.

Meanwhile, in a press conference on Wednesday, DOH Secretary Dr. Enrique Ona denied allegations that there were anomalies in the release of the funds for the family health programs of local government units (LGU).

In a press conference on Wednesday, Ona belied Senator Tito Sotto’s claims in a privilege speech that some LGUs did not receive the funds allotted to them from 2008 to 2010.

Ona said the LGUs that did not receive the budgets for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCHN) programs, may have failed to comply with one of the requirements: liquidating funds from the previous year’s family health programs.

Ona explained that the DOH national office releases the funds to the regional offices which turn over the funds to provincial health units.

He said the release of the family health program budget for LGUs depends on each province’s compliance with the requirements of the DOH and the Commission on Audit (COA): the submission of reports on fund utilization and liquidation.

Discrediting the RH bill

In an interview on radio dwIZ Wednesday morning, Cabral said, “Very obvious na ang gusto niya basagin ang kredibilidad ng DOH, dahil ito mag-implement ng RH law kung sakali ito maging batas at gusto niya pigilin ang pagpasa nito.”

In his privilege speech on Tuesday, Sotto said the DOH allocated the following funds for the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCHN) program of local government units (LGU):
# P600 million in 2008;
# P800 million in 2009, and
# P1.2 billion in 2010.

Sotto said some governors claimed that they did not receive these funds.

On Wednesday, Sotto and Cabral were guests on the Unang Hirit show of GMA.

On the show, Sotto said he was not out to destroy the DOH and was only revealing what DOH records show.

A bishop is urging Catholics to pray the rosary to enlighten lawmakers about the reproductive health (RH) bill.

“I-alay natin ang pagdarasal ng rosary sa mga Kongresista, Senador at kay Pangulong Aquino na maliwanagan ang kanilang pag-iisip at pahalagahan ang buhay,” Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said in an article posted on the CBCP website.

Catholic bishops this week announced that they are backing out of the talks with the government on the RH issue.

In a press conference on Monday, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Secretary General Msgr. Juanito Figura said there was no longer any reason to conduct the dialogues.

The CBCP and the Aquino administration are on opposite sides on the RH issue: while President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, a Catholic, expresses his support for the RH and responsible parenthood (RP) bills, Catholic bishops oppose both bills because these promote artificial contraception along with natural family planning methods.

The Catholic Church accepts only natural family planning methods and opposes the use of pills, condoms, intrauterine devices, and other contraceptives.

According to a report of radio dzMM, the CBCP stated its withdrawal from talks on the RH bill after Aquino announced the implementation of the five-point agenda on responsible parenthood.

Still, CBCP recognizes good points of the bill such as building hospitals and pushing for the welfare of women and children, the dzMM report said.
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“Hindi natin sinisira ang anumang ahensya. Ang mga mga dokumento na hawak ko ang magpapatunay na walang pondong natatanggap mula sa DOH ang ilan nating mga governor — halimbawa sina dating Ilocos Norte governor at ngayon ay senador na si Bongbong Marcos at Batangas Governor Vilma Santos, Sotto said.

On the same show, Cabral said there were requirements that local governments must comply with before the fund is given.

“Baka kulang ang kanilang mga requirements kaya di sila nakatanggap, Cabral said.

Cabral said that like Sotto she also wants to know the list of local government units that benefited from the program.

Probe anomaly first

Before the controversial RH Bill is be debated on, Sotto said the government should probe the anomaly about the MNCHN funds.

“While advocates of the RH bill are focusing on various issues such as overpopulation, poverty, contraception, abortion and so on and so forth, it is best that we look into the ‘here and now’ because I smell that there is something rotten in this state of affairs,” Sotto said in his privilege speech on Tuesday.

He said several LGUS claimed that they did not receive the MNCHN funds.

Sotto cited Ilocos Norte, which was supposed to have received:
# P644,525.60 in 2008;
# P602,590 in 2009, and
# P2.48 million in 2010.

He claimed that officials in Batangas, Quezon, and Lucena claimed that they also did not receive the supposed MNCHN funds.

Unfair claims

During the radio interview, Cabral said it was unfair for Sotto to draw up conclusions without verifying the matter with the DOH itself.

“Hindi yata makatarungan maglulubid siya ng istorya ng corruption sa isang bagay na di tinanong sa DOH kung ano ang maliwanag … Hindi lang (siya) misinformed kundi sinasadya niya biglang akusahan ang DOH nang wala sa pruweba,” she said.

She said she is ready to cooperate in any investigation but warned that a full investigation may be a “waste” of taxpayers’ money.

“They can investigate if there is a problem. But before they waste taxpayers’ money for grandstanding and sensationalism, they may want to ask the DOH for documents to clarify the matter,” she said.

“Obviously meron siyang datos na nakuha, alam niya ano ang nakalaan sa Ilocos Norte. Sana tinuloy ang pagtanong sa kung sino ang tinanong niya kung bakit di natanggap,” she added.

Palace ready to cooperate with probe

Meanwhile, Malacañang said it is ready to cooperate with a Senate investigation on the supposed irregularity in the DOH allocation.

“Susuriin po siguro nila ito at kami ay handang makipagtulungan sa kanila para tanggalin ang lahat na hinala na may hindi tamang nangyayari,” Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. said in an interview on dzXL radio.

“We presume Sotto has ample proof to back his claims and the Senate investigation will be in aid of legislation. On the other hand, the Senate has an oversight function to make sure taxpayers’ money is used properly,” he added. — with Candice Montenegro, Suzette Dalumpines, LBG/VVP, GMA News

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