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DOH loses P338M to infrastucture irregularities in Bicol Region

By Bobby Q. Labalan

LEGAZPI CITY --- The Commission on Audit (COA) is now conducting an investigation into the irregularities surrounding the construction of a hospital building at the Bicol Regional Hospital and Medical Center (BRHMC) in Daraga, Albay.

This was confirmed by Health Undersecretary Nestor Santiago, concurrent regional director of the Department of Health-Bicol (DOH), as he refused to divulge the result of an earlier investigation initiated by his office on the construction of the 5-storey 600-bed hospital building.

The DOH had sought the help of the COA in digging into the irregularity which resulted to huge loses to the agency apparently due to collusion in the implementation of the project that was supposed to decongest the hospital.

The probe was prompted by the report of a monitoring team from the Department of Health Central Office last June 3, 2022 which inspected the project funded under the Health Facility Enhancement Program (HFEP) in the amount of P589.6 million.

The monitoring team had noted the discrepancy between the payments released compared to the work accomplishment of the Manila-based contractor identified as New Vic Construction Corporation (NVCC).

Acting on the report, a fact-finding team composed of Dr. Rose Balisnomo-Rempillo as chair, Dante Atento and lawyer Jaime Guerrero as members was created by the DOH-CHD-Bicol as directed by the central office.

Documents obtained by Mediaworks Communication showed that the contract agreement was signed on February 8, 2018 by now retired BRHMC Chief Dr. Rogelio Rivera and NVCC managing head Vivian Llorando for a 720-day work duration and had a target completion date of December 25, 2020.

The documents also showed that the contractor was paid a total of P338,872,830.42 in three tranches broken down as follows: P88,440,253.59 as mobilization fund; P72,041,503.10 for 17.77 percent work accomplishment as first payment; P146,512,197.19 for another 36.14 percent work accomplishment for a total of P306,993,953.88 for a 53.91 percent work accomplishment. Another payment for the retention money was released later.

But as earlier noted by the monitoring team from the central office, there was a gaping discrepancy in the payments compared to the actual work done on the project as certified by the Engineering and Facility Management Office (EFMO), headed by a certain Engr. Richard Serrano.

Based on the record of the investigation, which was also furnished to Mediaworks Communication, the EFMO had certified that the work accomplishment of the contractor had reached 53.91 percent when in fact the actual accomplishment was only 14.68 percent as per inspection report of the DOH monitoring team.

This resulted in an overpayment of P213,103,886.38 which further increased after the new RHMC chief, Dr. Raymond Raborar, who assumed office in May 2021, approved the release of the retention money in the amount of P31,788,876.54 which brought the total releases to P338,782,830.42.

The retention money should have been held by the BRHMC until after the project had been turned over to the agency purposely to answer for any defect or deficiency in the project.

In an interview last February 19, Raborar reasoned out that the release of the retention money was justified as it was supported with a certification from former hospital chief Rivera stating “that construction work was on schedule and was satisfactorily undertaken”, which was proven to be untrue.

Queried on the discrepancies, Raborar said that he directed both the financial management office (FMO)headed by Mary Nathalie Cadag and the chief of the EFMO to explain the noted inconsistencies between the accomplishments and the actual payments made.

The response of the two offices, however, did not yield any concrete explanation as Cadag pointed to the EFMO as the source of the work accomplishment certifications which they used as basis for the payments. But the EFMO pointed back to the FMO as the source of the request for them to issue such certification “for financial requirement purposes only”.

Raborar’s probe ended on this stalemate between the two offices.

Meanwhile, the contractor, NVCC, had totally abandoned the project in September 2022 despite its earlier proposal for a catch-up plan, the records showed.

The center chief said the abandoned project would have to be totally demolished eventually as its structural integrity is already compromised but they are still waiting for the approval of the Commission on Audit (COA).

At present, the building’s foundation is constantly soaked in flood water and hospital observers said it has become a nuisance and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The bungled project could have substantially increased the bed capacity of the BRHMC from the current 450 beds to 1,050 had irregularity not plagued its implementation, a DOH official stressed.

Presently, the BRHMC, which caters to an average of 492 out-patients and 66 patient admissions daily, is one of the most, if not the most, congested hospitals in the region.

A report from the center chief’s office revealed that aside from the 5-storey building, there were other HFEP projects at the BRHMC which suffered the same fate including the Dialysis Center building, Out-Patient building, Dialysis Center Phase II, Patient Support Services Building Phase II, Cancer Center Phase II and the Cancer Center building.

Aside from this, it was also found out that there were numerous serious irregularities in the financial system of the BRHMC, which could be the reason why three key officials, Serrano and two accountants, were allowed either to retire or to resign since the investigation was conducted.


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