Duterte defends anew COVID-19 supply deals
MANILA, Philippines — The procurement of COVID-19 supplies, including face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), was aboveboard, President Duterte said as he continued to accuse senators of using their investigation on the reported mismanagement of the Department of Health (DOH)’s pandemic funds for their own political interest.
In a taped public address aired yesterday morning, Duterte repeated his attacks against senators, particularly Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which is conducting the inquiry into the administration’s multibillion-peso pandemic purchases from a company linked to the President’s former economic adviser Michael Yang.
“I myself say this, there was no corruption,” the President said, reiterating that he was the one who ordered the DOH to do away with the bidding process as this is allowed under the law during calamities and crises. “I take responsibility for that,” he said.
The senators were questioning the awarding of pandemic supply contracts amounting to P8.68 billion and the purchase of overpriced face masks from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which reportedly has links to Yang.
Sen. Franklin Drilon earlier said there could be “premeditated plunder” in the transfer of P41 billion of DOH funds to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the awarding of contracts to apparently favored suppliers identified with administration officials.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, during his presentation to Duterte on Tuesday night, again defended the purchase of face masks worth P27 each in April 2020, maintaining this was the cheapest at the time.
A report of the Commission on Audit (COA), however, showed that the PS-DBM purchased highest priced face masks, at P27.72 per piece, from Pharmally Pharmaceutical.
Duterte said the senators, particularly Gordon, were not after “the truth.”
“You cannot tell the truth in the Senate. Gordon is adversarial. He sees you as an enemy,” the President said.
Duterte said Gordon, whom he previously called a champion in talkathon, is playing the role of both judge and prosecutor and that the Senate inquiry is mere politicking.
“Did you see a good law that was able to help the country? What they are doing is politicking,” he said. “We have done so much that the fight cannot be done based on merit.”
Gordon had said the Blue Ribbon probe into the overpriced pandemic supplies may reach the President after names of personalities linked to him were dragged into the controversy, among them Yang and former PS-DBM head Christopher Lao, who hails from Duterte’s hometown Davao City.
Duterte has defended Yang and Lao in his previous public address, and in the meantime urged Gordon to step down as chairman of Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
He said the senator is afraid to subject the PRC to the scrutiny of state auditors even as COA said this is not among its mandates.
Duterte said a law mandates the PRC to submit annual reports on its finances to the President, its honorary chairman. But Gordon, he said, has failed to do this.
“He has been with the Red Cross ever since I was a boy scout. Gordon, you are fond of investigating anomalies, corruption, but when it comes to the Red Cross, you’ve held on to it like it is your property for the longest time,” he said.
The President earlier accused Gordon of using the PRC as “milking cow” for his electoral campaigns.
The PRC, in a previous statement, said it is not subject to COA audit and has expressed support for Gordon.
‘No double payment’
The DOH yesterday denied overpaying DBM for PPEs.
In a statement, the DOH said it had to procure full sets of PPEs in bulk as well as order loose surgical masks and face shields separately “to protect health care workers in both high- and low-risk settings.”
The agency purchased loose face shields and surgical masks from PS-DBM’s online store where common-use supplies and equipment, like PPEs, are available for the purchase of national government agencies and local government units.
DOH noted the items, which were readily available, were procured to immediately augment PPE supplies for health care workers in low-risk settings.
On the other hand, bulk PPE sets needed to be ordered and these took more time to be delivered.
The PPE sets include nine components: coverall suits, gloves, N95 mask, head cover, shoe cover, surgical mask, surgical gown, apron and face shield.
The DOH underscored that these are “separate transactions and all orders were completely turned over to the department.”
It added the PPEs were given “free of charge” to health care workers in public and private hospitals and other health facilities, the Bureau of Quarantine and Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units “to ensure their safety.”
The DOH also gave assurance that the PPEs are “cheap and at par with World Health Organization standards.”
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said strong demand and lack of supply drove up prices of face masks last year.
Secretary Lopez said the country saw strong demand for face masks following the eruption of Taal Volcano and the coronavirus pandemic, and the country had no local producers for the domestic market.
It was also difficult to get hold of face masks from other countries that did not want to sell as they were also in need of them, he said.
He said the DTI encouraged manufacturers in the country to repurpose facilities to be used for the production of face masks.
Meanwhile, activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has urged the Senate to order the full disclosure of the financial statements and tax records of Pharmally Pharmaceutical amid the controversies surrounding the supply contracts it secured from the PS-DBM.
“The next hearing should focus on how Pharmally cornered billions in contracts. There should be an examination of their financial statements and full disclosure of their tax records,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said. – Sheila Crisostomo, Louella Desiderio, Elizabeth Marcelo