Duque-Locsin rift reaches Duterte – Palace

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
Duque-Locsin rift reaches Duterte � Palace
In this Jan. 1, 2020 photo, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III holds a press conference.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The infighting between two Cabinet members on the alleged botched 50-million syringe deal has reached President Duterte, Malacañang said yesterday.

Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said the matter was not discussed during Duterte’s weekly meeting with members of his Cabinet and the government’s pandemic task force.

“But this matter has reached the Office of the President and you can expect, we will have updates and will also clarify all this next time,” Nograles said at a media briefing.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III were trading barbs after Locsin said the Department of Health (DOH) “dropped the ball” on a 50-million syringe procurement deal.

Duque on Monday said Locsin’s allegation is a “lie.”

Locsin lashed back at Duque and said, “Don’t ever, Duque, ever, question my motives.”

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country has a sufficient supply of syringes.

“We just want to let our countrymen know, there is really no issue with our syringes,” Vergeire said at a Palace press briefing.

“We have enough supply of syringes that we need for COVID-19 vaccination,” she added.

Vergeire explained that although the ideal syringe used for Pfizer vaccines would be the 0.3 ml, the government is using an alternative – the tuberculin syringes – because of the global shortage of this medical supply.

“And we have been able to provide funds to our various regions so that we can buy this alternative syringe,” she said.

Full compliance

Meanwhile, the DOH yesterday assured the public of full compliance with government procurement rules in the emergency purchase of syringes for the vaccination program.

“We have to follow pertinent rules and regulations, even as we undertake urgent procurements and activities for the pandemic response. We in the DOH have always been and continue to be committed to good governance, a cornerstone of public health, more so now during this health emergency,” Duque said in a statement.

In compliance with Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, the health chief said the DOH sent out Requests for Quotations (RFQs) to the proponent company and 50 other local suppliers.

While the DOH received an offer to supply 0.3 ml syringes, the agency cannot act on such an unsolicited proposal, according to Duque.

“Nonetheless, it has included the company in its pool of suppliers for the emergency procurement of 0.5 ml syringes,” he said.

Duque added that the DOH responded to the queries of the company through its technical staff, who are well-versed in the procurement process for health commodities and are specifically tasked to address queries from suppliers.

When the company questioned the Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) or the maximum contract price for being too low, however, the DOH had to reiterate the provision on Ceiling for Bid Prices of the 2016 Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9184.

“There seems to be a string of misunderstandings regarding this issue. For one, the DOH is not procuring 0.3 ml syringes at the moment, as our CHDs and hospitals have been given funds to procure the available alternative, tuberculin syringes. What we are procuring are 0.5 ml syringes and, as part of our pool of suppliers, we invited as many suppliers as we can to get the best price for the government,” Duque said.

“The UNICEF-procured syringes are 0.3 ml, and their price is not comparable to that of 0.5 ml syringes,” he added, referring to the United Nations Children’s Fund, while noting that the DOH was able to procure the 0.5 ml syringes last April at P2.38 each and has since used such cost for its ABC.

Duque said there is no ongoing procurement of 0.3 ml syringes as the DOH has already established stop-gap measures to ensure ample supply of ancillaries in view of the delayed deliveries of the procured supplies.

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