Amid Alex Gonzaga buzz, public reminded about DOH’s alleged cancer funds misuse

January 18, 2023 - 2:54 PM
This June 2016 photo shows Shrine of Saint Lazarus or San Lazaro Hospital, DOH Compound, Rizal Avenue, Santa Cruz, Manila. (Judgefloro/Wikimedia Commons)

Filipinos were reminded about reports of the health department’s senior officials allegedly mishandling funds for cancer patients amid the current buzz on Alex Gonzaga‘s cake-smearing video.

Twitter users brought attention to recent articles reporting on the issue and hoped it would not be forgotten or swept under the rug following the traction on the vlogger-actress’ antics at her birthday party.

Alex trended on social media after a video of her gleefully smearing a server’s forehead with cake icing circulated.

READ: ‘Respect service workers’: Reactions to viral cake icing-smearing vid of Alex Gonzaga

“Hey, guys! I know that what Alex Gonzaga did was absurd, but don’t forget that at least five current officials of the DOH are facing a complaint for criminal and administrative offenses in relation to the alleged mismanagement of the P786-million budget for the Cancer and Supportive-Palliative Medicines Access Program (CSPMAP) in 2022,” a Twitter user wrote.

“Huwag sana masapawan nung Alex Gonzaga issue ang balita ngayon na nagnakaw ang DOH officials ng P786 million sa pondo na para dapat sa mga cancer patients ng Pilipinas,” another Pinoy tweeted.

A different Twitter user commented that he wouldn’t know about it if not for the tweets bringing the DOH issue to attention.

Meanwhile, an employee of the Department of Health has filed a complaint against incumbent and former senior officials of the agency before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Reports said that DOH medical specialist Clarito Cairo Jr filed it on Dec. 23, 2022. News about it only appeared on January 12.

Cairo is also the program manager of the National Integrated Cancer Control Program.

In his complaint, the following were accused of grave misconduct, malversation of public funds and of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act:

  • DOH Undersecretary Beverly Lorraine Ho
  • DOH Director IV Razel Nikka Hao
  • DOH Director IV Anthony Cu
  • Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (DPCB) – Financial and Supply Chain Monitoring Division head Kim Patrick Tejano
  • Cancer Control Division head Jan Aura Laurelle Llevado
  • Former DOH director Anna Melissa Guerrero

The complainant alleged that the funds for the Cancer and Supportive-Palliative Medicines Access Program (CSPMAP) were only sub-allotted to 19 of the expected 31 access sites or hospitals.

Cairo claimed this resulted in the mismanagement of the CSPMAP budget of P786 million and the Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF) budget of P529 million, both sourced from the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

He also alleged that the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila, a go-to access site for cancer patients in 2021, had an insufficient budget of P16 million last year.

Cairo additionally claimed that the Philippine General Hospital, Rizal Medical Center and Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center — hospitals that have been serving many cancer patients since 2011 — had been excluded from the list of access sites.

He likewise alleged that 19 access sites did not procure Imatinib, an oral chemotherapy maintenance medication for at least 300 enrolled patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia, due to the sub-allotment of program funds.

“Thus, many of their CSPMAP-enrolled patients had to discontinue or abandon their treatment due to [the] unavailability of the lifesaving medicines,” Cairo claimed.

The complaint also alleged that the respondents favored  Trastuzumab (Herceptin) 600mg SC instead of the cheaper  Trastuzumab 150mg IV, which more breast cancer patients could supposedly benefit from.

Cairo wrote that he tried to intervene but Ho, Hao, Cu, Tejano, and Llevado still pursued the sub-allotment of the budget to only P781 million — instead of P786 under the GAA — to only 19 access sites.

DOH ‘acted in best interest’ 

The DOH, in response, said that its cancer-related policies were above board and that key stakeholders approved it.

“All the processes undertaken by the DOH, through the cancer program, were unanimously approved by the National Integrated Cancer Control Council — the highest and only designated policy-making, planning, and coordinating body consisting of key representatives and experts from different national government agencies, cancer specialists, and patient support groups,” it said on a statement.

The DOH added that the money sub-allotted to the access sites was based on the “documented requests of the hospitals themselves.”

“And other DOH hospitals alleged to have been excluded from receiving funds were actually provided cancer medicines and cancer assistance funds which can be used for diagnostics, treatment, and other needed support of cancer patients,” it said.

The health agency gave assurances to the public that it “acted in the best interest of the thousands of cancer patients” and that they are “confident” that their integrities “remain intact.”