Former Health Secretary Duque and Budget Undersecretary Lao Face Criminal Charges Over COVID Fund Mishandling

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The Office of the Ombudsman Recommends Criminal Charges Against Former Health Secretary Francisco Duque

In a significant development, the Office of the Ombudsman has recommended the filing of criminal charges against former Health Secretary Francisco Duque and former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao. This recommendation is based on allegations of the illegal transfer of P41 billion in procurement funds for equipment and other items during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ombudsman’s decision, issued on May 6 and signed on May 8 by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, also found Duque and Lao guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service.

Dismissal from Government Service and Forfeiture of Retirement Benefits

According to a copy of the recommendation obtained by The Manila Times, the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of both Duque and Lao from government service. Additionally, they are required to forfeit all their retirement benefits and are disqualified from reemployment. This decision underscores the gravity of the alleged offenses committed by the former health secretary and budget undersecretary.

Defending the Actions: Duque’s Perspective

In a phone interview with The Manila Times, Duque maintained that his actions were above board and necessary to address the country’s urgent need for supplies during the pandemic. He emphasized that his primary aim was to protect the lives of Filipinos and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Duque further explained that he did not see any irregularity in the transfer of funds to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), a government agency. He pointed out that the Philippines had no local suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that the PS-DBM had access to reliable suppliers. Duque expressed confidence that the procurement process was carried out efficiently, ensuring the timely arrival of essential supplies.

Furthermore, Duque highlighted the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic, including the activation of multiple testing laboratories, procurement of test kits, and regular dissemination of information to the public regarding the dangers of COVID-19. He affirmed his readiness to defend himself against the allegations in the proper courts or even through a public forum, stating, “I can defend it even in Plaza Miranda. I only did my job: to save and protect lives and prevent deaths; we did everything.”

Health Department’s Response and Legal Proceedings

Albert Francis Domingo, the Health Officer-in-Charge, stated that the Department of Health (DOH) respects all legal proceedings and will act accordingly. This signifies the department’s commitment to upholding the rule of law and cooperating with the investigation.

The case against Duque and Lao originated from a complaint filed by former Senator Richard Gordon and Senator Risa Hontiveros. The complaint was prompted by the investigation conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, which uncovered the alleged illegal fund transfer of the DOH to the PS-DBM for the procurement of COVID-19 items such as PPE, RT-PCR test kits, and alcohol, among others.

The complaint highlighted the approval of transfers and issuance of disbursement vouchers to the PS-DBM without the execution of necessary agreements and certificates of previous liquidation. It also questioned the outsourcing of procurement to the PS-DBM despite the DOH’s authority and organizational structure in place for its own procurement.

The Commission on Audit (COA), in its 2021 annual audit report of the DOH, also noted instances of non-receipt of items, misdeliveries, and discrepancies between the indicated quantities in distribution lists and the actual quantities received by recipient agencies.

Findings of the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that not all fund transfers involved the procurement of common use supplies and equipment (CSE). The transfers also included other items such as cadaver bags, mechanical ventilators, and nucleic acid extraction machines, which were not classified as CSE.

During the hearing, Duque admitted that the reason for moving the funds to the PS-DBM was to facilitate the procurement of essential items. However, the Ombudsman’s findings raise questions about the appropriateness of the fund transfers and the classification of the procured items.


The recommendation of the Office of the Ombudsman to file criminal charges against former Health Secretary Francisco Duque and former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao has significant implications. It signifies a critical step towards holding accountable those responsible for the alleged illegal transfer of funds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Duque maintains that his actions were necessary to protect the lives of Filipinos and prevent the spread of the virus, the Ombudsman’s findings indicate potential irregularities in the procurement process. As legal proceedings unfold, it will be essential to ensure a fair and thorough examination of the evidence.

The outcome of this case will not only determine the fate of the individuals involved but will also have broader implications for the country’s fight against corruption and the proper use of public funds, particularly during times of crisis.

Source: The Manila Times

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