Dangerous Liaisons

Healthbeat 1998 No. 3.jpgHealthbeat 1998 No. 3.jpg

The first health secretary under the leadership of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada sailed through rough seas even before the new administration reached its first 100 days in power. Dr. Felipe Estrella, Jr.’s short stint as the 21st health chief is best described as a term besieged with scandals and controversies involving alleged graft and corruption at the very early part of the current administration. Estrella resigned after serving barely two months as DOH secretary.

It all started with Senator Juan Flavier exposing the alleged “mafia” operating in the DOH where he even cited the men of former Senator Angara as key players. The “mafia” allegedly extended illegally a contract for the purchase of P51 million worth of ferrous sulfate tablets with MG Generics because it was not able to deliver the tablets on schedule. The said pills were intended for the 1998 Araw ng Sangkap Pinoy (National Micronutrient Day) program.

Legal problems with the contract, which MG Generics could use against the DOH had it decided to terminate the deal, and the unfeasibility of re-bidding were the reasons that reportedly prompted health officials to extend the delivery date.

When Dr. Alberto Romualdez, Jr. was named as the new DOH chief in September, he suspended all purchases of medicines pending the adoption of the new set of procurement guidelines that would keep small drug companies from joining the bidding process.

Romualdez also revoked the P51 million contract with MG Generics following the discovery that the said drugs, which was partially delivered to the DOH, were sub-standard. The more than half a million bottles of ferrous sulfate were found to have labeling and discoloring problems. Subsequently, the Sangkap Pinoy program was moved to November 18 with the DOH procuring the needed drugs from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

After its inquiry, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), tasked by President Estrada to verify the existence of a “mafia” at the DOH, recommended for prosecution of 18 DOH officials and an executive from MG Generics in connection with fraud. Former Health Secretary Carmencita Reodica was among those DOH officials.

The NBI, on the other hand, cleared Estrella of any involvement in the scam.