THE Commission on Audit has affirmed the liability of University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital pharmacy officials and the staff of former Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing for irregularities in charging P2.89 million worth of medicines and services from the lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations in 2011.
In a September 16, 2019 decision that was released only last week, COA chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose A. Fabia and Roland C. Pondoc reversed the February 3, 2017 ruling of the COA-National Government Sector-Cluster 5 that excluded UP-PGH Accounting Services Division chief Elizabeth Cardenas and clerk II Angelito Leal from liability in the disallowed transactions.
The COA Commission Proper said both should remain liable together with UP-PGH pharmacists Juvy Anne Pagulayan, EJ Portacio, Wilma Luna, Emma Alota, and senior pharmacist Anacleta Emralino as well as Bagatsing’s PDAF coordinator Lyn Bonifacio and former senior congressional staff Carlito Guiang.
Records showed that Rep. Bagatsing implemented a Medical Assistance Program in 2011 wherein poor patients from the fifth legislative district of Manila may obtain free hospital treatment and subsidized medication funded by a P2.5 million allocation from the lawmaker’s PDAF.
The scheme required patients seeking assistance to present a guarantee letter from the congressman’s office containing basic details, including the name of the beneficiary, date of issuance, amount of assistance approved, and the validity period.
During audit of the 2011 financial reports, the COA found the cost of medicines and services charged against Bagatsing’s project exceeded the allocated sum by P2.892 million, thus a notice of disallowance was issued.
“The ATL (audit team leader) and the SA (supervising auditor) believed that this excessive dispensation of medicines was made possible through either an unlawful scheme participated in by appellants or gross negligence in the performance of their duties,” the COA noted.
UP-PGH pharmacists contested the audit finding, saying they were not at fault, adding the job of determining the validity of the guarantee letters and sufficient funding to cover the assistance request is not the function of the Pharmacy Department.
They said they relied on the patient’s ledger issued by the UP-PGH Accounting Services Division since the document indicated the available fund for each patient.
While they admitted there were instances when a different person would claim the medicines, the claimants were required to show authorization letters as well as official identification from the patient as well as the claimant. However, they could no longer present copies of the said documents noting that at the time, there was no protocol for preserving such records.
Cardenas and Leal invoked good faith and substantial compliance, saying the belated submission of financial reports pertaining to PDAF transactions was attributable to lack of manpower.
The COA rejected these arguments, noting that hospital pharmacists had the duty to ascertain the outstanding balance of financial assistance still available which could have prevented the excessive charges.
On the part of Cardenas and Leal, the commission noted that the late submission of financial report was not the only basis of their liability as the two also made certifications on the account balance of guarantee letters even if these exceeded the actual balance of the account.