MANILA, Philippines — Some House members hit the Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday for failing to distribute to hospitals 370 respirators donated by some firms in the tobacco industry, leaving them instead unused in a warehouse.
“This is criminal negligence. These respirators could have saved lives,” Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez told the House Committee on Good Government. “My district in Cagayan De Oro, which has one of the highest cases of Covid in the country, badly needs these respirators.”
The reason the DOH cited for holding on to the donated respirators was Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2010-01 issued by the DOH and the Civil Service Commission.
The JMC — which was signed by then-CSC chief Francisco Duque III, who is now DOH secretary — prohibits government interaction with the tobacco industry, which includes issuing receipts of donations.
In the same hearing, CSC Commissioner Aileen Lourdes Lizada said she had moved to recall the “defective” JMC, adding that there was no record in the CSC granting Duque authority to sign the JMC on behalf of their “collegial body.”
The discovery of the undistributed respirators was first mentioned during an earlier public hearing conducted by the House Committee on Good Government on reports that the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration had received money from anti-tobacco, foreign interest groups led by the Bloomberg Initiative.
Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles said it was the primary duty of the DOH to save the lives of Filipinos yet they chose to prioritize their campaign against tobacco first.
“It is sad that the DOH prioritized the advocacy of foreigners at the expense of the lives of Filipino people,” Nograles said.
“The DOH did not perform its function because they are really against the tobacco industry,” Rodriguez said. “They should answer for this.”
AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin called it “ironic” that Bloomberg and other anti-tobacco philanthropies had not helped the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet the tobacco industry had donated respirators to help fight the disease.
The committee zeroed in on the JMC after learning that the CSC also received funding from Bloomberg and shortly after issued the circular prohibiting interaction with the tobacco industry.
Garin said there were already many cases of foreign interest groups giving government agencies money in a bid to influence their policies.
“We should not let this happen. We are a sovereign people,” Garin said.
Nograles said Congress should recommend discarding JMC for lack of legal basis.
With no record authorizing Duque to sign the JMC, Nograles said the circular was “void ab initio” – that is, void from the start.
Rep. Michael Edgar Aglipay, the committee chair, said the panel report would include names of people who should be held accountable for various Philippine laws violated.
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