Malacañang on Wednesday denied that the administration purchased overpriced personal protective equipment (PPEs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was the previous administration that bought PPEs at a higher cost.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque asked opposition Senator Franklin Drilon to explain the purchase of his allies in the previous administration of PPEs worth at least P3,000 each.
The Duterte administration bought PPEs worth P1,700 each during the pandemic, Roque said.
Drilon dismissed Roque’s allegations, saying they were aimed at diverting public attention away from the Duterte administration of P8.6 billion worth of overpriced face masks, face shields and PPEs from a small company, Pharmally, which is under scrutiny at the Senate.
“Spoken like a true troll. It is very unmanly and desperate of Roque to even mention my name,” Drilon said in a statement.
“It is very malicious and it is a futile attempt to divert attention away from this organized plunder,” the senator added.
He said Roque should point to the backer of former undersecretary Christopher Lao who was the head of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) when the overpriced face shields and face masks were procured.
Drilon also said Roque should identify the backer of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a small firm which only had a paid-up capital of around P625,000 but secured over P8 billion worth of government contracts for the procurement of PPEs.
In defending the alleged overpriced PPEs, Roque said the Aquino administration bought PPEs worth above P3,000 each in 2015 and 2016, higher by almost P1,300 each bought by the Duterte administration.
“Senator Drilon, why don’t you ask your allies,” the Palace official said.
He asked the senator why his allies in the previous administration made such purchases of PPEs worth double the price at a time when there was no pandemic.
“Somebody made money, and it is not with the administration. You know, when you point your finger at someone, the other four are pointed back at you. That’s what happened with the supposed overpriced PPE,” he said.
Roque defended the government’s emergency procurement of pandemic supplies, saying it was consistent with the government procurement act, relevant procurement issuances, and the Bayanihan Act.
“Overpriced? No. Because at the time, all countries were in search for PPEs,” he added.
At the same time, Roque denied that the influence of former economic adviser and businessman Michael Yang led to the government’s decision to buy over 8 billion worth of Covid-19 medical supplies from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
Yang’s name was brought up in a Senate hearing last week after video footage was played showing the Chinese Davao-based businessman and President Rodrigo Duterte meeting with officials of Pharmally in 2017.
“Personalities had nothing to do with this. What they looked at were the price and quality,” Roque said.
Roque said the government, through the DBM, requested quotes of items from suppliers before actually awarding the government contract to Pharmally.
“They asked for quotes from multiple sources. And they decide on who to award the contract on the basis of the quotes submitted. Just because there’s no bidding, it doesn’t mean they don’t ask for multiple quotes,” he added.
In a public address aired last Tuesday, Duterte defended Yang by pointing out that he has been in business for some 20 years.
He cited Yang’s ties with former Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, saying he even accompanied the ex-envoy in meetings.
Duterte also said the process of emergency procurement is consistent with existing laws such as Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, Government Procurement Policy Board issuances (GPPB), and other further of RA 11469 of Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
Under the Bayanihan Act, the government may undertake the procurement of PPEs and other medical supplies “in the most expeditious manner” as exemptions from RA 9184 and other relevant laws.
The law also allows “emergency” negotiated procurement “in case of imminent danger to life or property during a state of calamity, or when time is of the essence arising from natural or man-made calamities or other cases where immediate action is necessary.”
Last week, senators expressed concern why a bulk of government contracts for the purchase of COVID-19 medical supplies went to Pharmally, which existed only six months before the pandemic.
Pharmally was registered in September 2019 with the Securities and Exchange of Commission with a paid capital of P625,000.
Senator Richard Gordon said President Duterte has turned the COVID-19 funding mess involving his former appointees into “a personal fight.”
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, criticized the way Duterte responded to the irregularities surrounding the Health department’s pandemic response funds, which are being questioned by the senator’s panel.
During the Senate hearing, the committee presented a 2017 footage showing Duterte and Sen. Christopher Go welcoming former economic adviser and Chinese businessman Michael Yang and the officials of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. in Malacañang.
In his public address aired on Tuesday, Duterte called out Gordon for his manner of leading the inquiry, which he said “reeks with malice.”
He also accused Gordon of being anti-Chinese.
Gordon said he was disappointed at the President.
“I am a bit disappointed at him because the people voted for him but it seems like he left the people out of the picture,” Gordon said in Filipino. “He is making it a personal fight even if it’s not meant to be one.”
Gordon told Duterte to direct his appointees to answer the issues on procurement of overpriced pandemic supplies instead of launching personal attacks against him.
Gordon said the Senate investigation into the overpriced pandemic supplies may reach the President.
“We haven’t served a subpoena yet. He’s not being investigated yet. Maybe he was reacting to that statement,” said Gordon.
“The government machinery of the DOH was there. The regulatory agencies were there and then suddenly this corporation with a paid-up capital of P600,000 was there. The firm bagged big contracts,” Gordon said.
Also on Wednesday, lawmakers questioned the Department of Health’s (DOH)’s absence of funding for additional testing facilities under the proposed P5.024 trillion national budget for 2022. During the DOH budget briefing, Rep. AngelinaTan of Quezon, chairperson of the House committee on health, took note of the agency’s absence of funding for molecular labs or purchase of equipment for the creation of additional laboratories.