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Return P1.97 billion COVID-19 funds to treasury, DBM told  

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Return P1.97 billion COVID-19 funds to treasury, DBM told   
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MANILA, Philippines — A total of P1.975 billion in unused funds for COVID-19 response needs to be returned by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to the treasury, the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed yesterday.

In its 2021 annual audit report on the PS-DBM, the COA has told the PS-DBM to remit the amount to the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) as it represents funds received from the Department of Health (DOH) for the procurement of supplies and equipment that ended up unused as of last Dec. 31.

The COA noted that of a total P47.759 billion in funds that the DOH had transferred to the PS-DBM from 2020 to 2021 for the procurement of common-use supplies and equipment (CSE) and other non-CSE (NCSE) to be used for the government’s pandemic response, only P44.179 billion was utilized as of end of 2021, leaving a balance of P3.472 billion. 

The COA said that P1.264 billion of the balance represented the 12-percent value-added tax (VAT) that the PS-DBM automatically deducted from the payments to foreign suppliers in 2020 to 2021 though it has yet to remit the amount to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

State auditors recorded that transferred funds were sourced from allocations under Republic Act 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1); RA 11494, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2); RA No. 11465, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2020 and RA 11518, the GAA of 2021.

The COA said that while P232 million of the transferred fund may still be used by the PS-DBM until Dec. 31, 2022 following the enactment of RA 11640, which extended the validity of the 2021 GAA, a total of P1.975 billion can no longer be disbursed as the validity of allocations under Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 has already lapsed on June 25, 2020 and June 30, 2021, respectively.

“Non-remittance of the unexpended or unutilized fund transfers to the BTr had not made additional funds available to the National Government (NG) for its COVID-19 responses, among others,” the COA said of the failure of PS-DBM to remit the unused fund.

Check PS-DBM, PITC

Yesterday, a House leader asked President Marcos to end the alleged anomalies over government procurements handled by the PS-DBM and the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC).

Stressing the need to stop the perceived notoriety of graft-ridden agencies of government, Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto highlighted how the PS-DBM figured in the latest issue of pricey laptops purchased for the Department of Education (DepEd), while the PITC faced accusations of undelivered goods.

As of August last year, PS-DBM and PITC, which is under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), owed their client government agencies P63.1 billion worth – almost evenly split between the two – of undelivered goods, equipment and infrastructure.

“There would have been no problem if the involvement of the two had led to faster procurement of quality goods at cheaper prices. But the opposite had happened,” lamented Recto. 

The two serve as state purchasing arms which other government agencies contract, for a fee, to buy a wide range of goods, including what Recto said are “planes, trains and automobiles.” 

He pointed out that the PS-DBM and PITC have recently been called out for questionable transactions discovered by the COA. 

“In COA parlance, this amount represented ‘unutilized deposits and advance payments’ of government agencies. Read the COA reports and cry. Some of the equipment were supposed have been delivered five years before but were still in the bidding stage,” said the congressman from Batangas.

Laptops may be replaced

 Yesterday, a DepEd official said the government may invoke the warranty provision and ask suppliers to replace laptops that do not meet the standards set during the procurement process.

Michael Poa, DepEd spokesman, said they would evaluate the laptops purchased by the PS-DBM and verify reports regarding their performance. 

“The DepEd will be evaluating the claim that the laptops are slow. We will see if there can be a quick fix. Having said that, there is no order or directive to replace the laptops just yet. We are not there yet. We will be evaluating first,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

“Now, if proven that the laptops delivered do not perform as they should be as purchased, we will then consider available legal remedies — which is to invoke the warranty provision. If need be, invoking the warranty provision will be done in coordination with PS-DBM, as they are the procuring entity,” he added. 

The COA had flagged the DepEd and the PS-DBM over the procurement of laptops worth P2.4 billion to be distributed to public school teachers, noting they had an “outdated” processor and were “too slow.”

Poa said the DepEd has already written to the PS-DBM to request for documents related to the procurement of the laptops. 

“I must stress that the new chief of PS-DBM has been very cooperative. I’m sure that we’ll be able to get the documents sooner rather than later and we will be able to answer what happened to the pricing,” he said.

Meanwhile, the party-list congressman whose company was allegedly involved in the overpriced laptops delivered to the DepEd distanced himself from the controversy, claiming he had already divested his interests in the firm. 

“Please be informed that I divested all my interests in Sunwest Construction and Development Corp. (SCDC) in 2019,” said Rep. Elizalde Co of Ako Bicol party-list, who heads the 64-member Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. in the House. 

“In faithful compliance with existing laws, rules and regulations, no member of my family are SCDC shareholders. I’m issuing this clarification to avoid possible future references to me as owner of SCDC,” Co said. –  Janvic Mateo, Delon Porcalla

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