Creation of anti-overpricing body urged to curb corruption in buying test kits, PPEs
Photo shows Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros/Released

Creation of anti-overpricing body urged to curb corruption in buying test kits, PPEs

( - October 13, 2020 - 12:35pm

MANILA, Philippines — Citing a reported P1.5 billion lost to overpricing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the government to fast-track the establishment of an anti-overpricing board to stop corruption in the procurement of equipment essential to the country's pandemic response. 

"An anti-overpricing body would ensure that the needed equipment will be standardized and procured at the best price. We need full enforcement of our laws to prevent corruption and to make sure we are spending right," Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino during the health department's budget hearing last Friday. 

She added that the Department of Health, the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp., and the Department of Trade and Industry are mandated by the Universal Healthcare Law to "immediately convene the the Independent Price Negotiation Board." 

The said board was further defined by Hontiveros as "an oversight body... that can negotiate with suppliers over prices of medical supplies and new technology that healthcare workers need." 

Hontiveros last month bared that P1 billion was lost to the overpricing of personal protective equipment procured by the Department of Budget and Management from foreign suppliers.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Ping Lacson flagged an approximate P500 million lost to the excessive pricing of test kits and nuclear acid extractors procured by the same agency.  

"This P1.5-billion loss should not be ignored. This is a major factor in our pandemic response, especially as we enter the Top 18 [countries] with the most COVID-19 cases  in the entire globe," the senator stressed in Filipino. 

"We have mechanisms in our existing laws that are supposed to prevent overpriced procurement from happening. It is not yet clear if these procurement decisions were motivated by corruption or the result of negligence, but clearly, we need to implement safeguards to avoid wasting taxpayers' money at a time we desperately need every peso," she added.

Hontiveros further challenged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whose resignation has been repeatedly sought by over half the Senate, to verbalize his commitment to protecting the funds his department is set to receive in 2021. 

"I am all in for a higher health budget and giving the department what it needs to optimize its operations in light of this health emergency, but we need to address the elephant in the room," she said. 

Along with the procurement of overpriced equipment, the senator was referring to the widely investigated mess at PhilHealth involving corruption and mismanagement which led to the replacement of its chief and the resignation of all its top executives. 

As these developments unfurled, Duque — who sits as the agency's chairman of the board and has previously served as its chief —  again drew the ire of several senators and the public but has managed to keep his post. President Rodrigo Duterte has vigorously defended Duque and has refused to replace him on several occasions. 

'Fast-track special audit of COVID-19 funds' 

"We will watch closely that the DOH ensures every peso goes to the right place," Hontiveros said last Friday. 

She further urged the expediting of Resolution No. 479 which seeks to conduct a special audit of the government's coronavirus funds. 

"We need to push through with this investigation immediately. It is becoming crystal clear that there is a leak somewhere," the senator said. 

"Now that we are conducting budget deliberations, we need to even more into whether people's taxes have gone up and down correctly. It is urgent that we conduct an audit. If there seems to be nonsense and someone is looking to make money, let's stop them" she added in Filipino. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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