Probe ordered on COVID machine distributors

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Probe ordered on COVID machine distributors
With Sen. Bong Go looking on, President Duterte chats with Health Secretary Franciso Duque III at the sidelines of the meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases last Monday at Malacañang.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the alleged overpricing of testing machines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by a local distributor amid a public health emergency.

In a late-night televised address on Monday, Duterte directed the NBI to file charges if there is evidence to pin down local supplier Omnibus Bio Medical Systems Inc.

“The NBI should study the matter carefully. If the NBI has probable cause, then go ahead,” Duterte said.

During the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the President confronted Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other Cabinet officials over the alleged involvement of couple Van William and Emily Co in the overpriced test kits and extraction machines.

When asked by Duterte if he knew the couple, Duque said no.

“I do not know these personalities, ito pong Co. Somebody might know about the couple. I don’t know if Undersecretary Lloyd knows,” Duque said, referring to Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao.

An earlier report claimed that Duque centralized the government’s purchases of test kits and extraction machines through Omnibus.

The couple reportedly owns Omnibus, exclusive distributor of Sansure Biotech in the Philippines.

The STAR tried to get the reaction of Van William but he did not respond to calls and text messages.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson recently flagged the alleged overpricing, saying an automated extraction machine should only cost P1.75 million if bought directly from Sansure.

Lacson said the government purchased the machines from Omnibus for P4 million per unit.

According to Lao, Omnibus first sent a letter to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) offering to sell automated extraction machines at P4 million.

He said the DBM received another e-mail from the company, stating that the machines are priced at P4.35 million each.

Lao said Omnibus and other local suppliers selling Sansure equipment lost the bid as the government decided to buy from a Hong Kong-based supplier.

“But they are complaining why we are not respecting their exclusive distributorship,” he said, adding that the issue reached Sansure’s management in China.

Lao said he met with officials of Sansure twice and requested them to sell the equipment directly to the Philippines.

“They negotiated that since they have a relationship with Omnibus as its exclusive distributor, they are willing to reduce the price. I think Omnibus is willing to reduce the price,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Omnibus may be held liable for violating the Anti-Profiteering Law and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra assured the public that the NBI would look into the allegedly overpriced testing machines for COVID-19.

The Department of Health (DOH) and DBM have started an investigation into the purchase of allegedly overpriced COVID-19 testing equipment, according to Duque.

Duque disclosed the development at the hearing of the Senate committee on health and demography chaired by Sen. Bong Go.

During the hearing, Duque conceded the failures of the DOH early in the campaign against COVID-19, including the lack of testing, equipment and quarantine facilities.

Go urged the public to report to concerned agencies any anomalies in connection with the purchase of COVID-19 equipment. Edith Regalado, Mary Grace Padin, Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan

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