Sample of high quality respirators (Photo courtesy by Ezvid Wiki)
MANILA — The Department of Health has not released 370 respirators to hospitals nationwide despite the surge in Covid 19 cases simply because they came from the tobacco industry, the House Committee on Good Government learned today (Wednesday, 09 June 2021).
Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said this is criminal negligence on the part of the DOH for prioritizing their advocacy against the tobacco industry over the lives of Filipino Covid patients.
“These respirators could have saved lives. My district in Cagayan De Oro, which has one of the highest cases of Covid in the country badly needs these respirators,” Rodriguez said.
The DOH cited a Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 signed by then Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair now DOH Secretary Francisco Duque prohibiting government interaction with the tobacco industry as the reason why they have not yet distributed the donated respirators.
During the virtual public hearing, CSC Commissioner Aileen Lourdes Lizada said she found the JMC defective and recommended the recall of the controversial circular. However, she said since the CSC is a collegial body, the commission en banc has not yet acted on her recommendations.
Lizada revealed that they found no record in their office granting Duque authority to sign the JMC. As a matter of practice, she said the chairman is authorized to sign on behalf of the commission via a resolution signed by all the commissioners.
Asked by Deputy Deogracias Victor Savellano if the CSC agrees with the interpretation of anti-tobacco organizations that because of the JMC the government cannot accept donations from the tobacco industry, Lizada said that’s why her office “is looking into the intrinsic infirmities because we don’t want a JMC that will be used when there are intrinsic infirmities.”
She added that they replied to the DOH when they sought their legal opinion saying they wanted the respirators to be used, “sinasabi naming pwede ninyong gamitin (we said they can use them).”
Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles said the DOH should be saving Filipino lives but unfortunately “inuna pa nila ang kanilang advocacy against the tobacco industry. (they prioritized their advocacy against the tobacco industry”
“The DOH sorely did not perform their function because they are really against an industry, the tobacco industry,” Rodriguez said.
The investigation by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability focuses on the receipt of foreign grants by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies from anti-vaping group The Union, which is heavily funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies of US financial billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
In the first hearing on March 16, 2021, the Philippines’ FDA confirmed having received grants from The Union to support policy development. FDA Director Anna Rivera admitted during the hearing that the agency hired multiple job orders on behalf of The Union.
Nograles also disclosed in the earlier hearing that the FDA and other government agencies received US$2.5 million from The Union over the years, including the CSC which received $150,000. (AI/MTVN)