Duterte says he ordered Duque to fast-track purchase of PPEs

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Duterte says he ordered Duque to fast-track purchase of PPEs
President Rodrigo Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Davao City on August 10 , 2020.
Presidential Photo / Joey Dalumpines

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte, in a recording aired Tuesday, said he ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at the onset of the pandemic to rush the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment that lawmakers are looking into for alleged overpricing.

This comes amid heightened scrutiny of the government's spending of pandemic funds in both chambers of Congress. The Senate in particular has earned Duterte's ire as it closes in on individuals linked to the president and Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go.

"I was the one who told [Duque]...'I am sure there is a law which would exempt you from bidding'...We had to rush [because of the] pandemic," Duterte said in a prerecorded address aired Tuesday morning where he spoke partially in Filipino. 

"At a Cabinet meeting, I told him 'I want it done immediately.' I told him [not to take] a month [but] one day, two days only," he added. "Ako ang nag-utos, ako ipakulong nila (I gave the order, let them jail me)."

READ:  Duterte defends DOH amid 'overpriced' PPEs, medical equipment issue | Lacson flags 'pattern' of DOH buying higher-priced equipment vs COVID-19

Procurement service under scrutiny 

Duque at a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing last Friday said he decided to transfer P42 billion in DOH funds from the Department of Budget and Management's procurement service following Duterte's directive to ensure sufficient supplies.

He said the decision was made in consultation with members of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, including its chief Carlito Galvez Jr. and its deputy chief Vince Dizon. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a statement Monday called this transfer of funds the "original sin" which opened the door to the purchase of overpriced PPEs, masks and face shields. He also called for Duque to be held liable. 

He said this as senators zeroed in on the PS-DMB and its awarding of government contracts worth over P8 billion last year to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation. 

The firm in question was incorporated only in September 2019 and had a paid-up capital of just P625,00 before the PS-DBM awarded it with key contracts, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and a report from Rappler. 

Among the items purchased from Pharmally, Drilon said, were "overpriced" PPEs worth P3.82 billion.

Also flagged as overpriced by several senators were the face masks purchased from Pharmally at around P27.72 per piece and face shields for P120 each. 

Heading the PS-DBM at the time was Budget Usec. Christopher Lloyd Lao. He resigned from his post as officer-in-charge of the PS-DMB in June 2020.

Before he joined the DBM, he worked as an undersecretary at the Office of the Special Presidential Assistant, an office held by Sen. Go until 2018. He also worked on Duterte's presidential campaign. 

Lao told the senators at a Blue Ribbon Committee hearing last Friday that he could not explain why the PS-DBM under his watch was buying face masks and shields at prices up to five times higher than those purchased by the Philippine Red Cross.

He speculated that the PRC "has a very good network" and "wider access" compared to the PS-DBM. 

The PRC was buying face masks for P5 and face shields for P20 each at around the same time, according to Sen. Richard Gordon who also sits as its chairman. 

As early as 2020, Sen. Risa Hontiveros sounded the alarm over some P1 billion that may have been lost due to the purchase of PPEs which were overpriced by around P200 from the months of April to May of that year. 

Hontiveros said then that the cost of PPEs per the estimates of the Philippine General Hospital ranges from P1200 to P1500 but the sets procured by the PS-DBM from Chinese manufacturers cost around P1700 to P2000. 

Although Lao claims that the higher prices paid for PPEs were due to a lack of access to cheaper ones, opposition senators have long accused the government of overlooking local manufacturers of "quality" PPEs in favor of Chinese contractors.






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