MANILA — Buy locally made products first.
Rosette Carillo, associate director of the Confederation of Garments Exporters of the Philippines (Congep) pointed this out during the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs hearing on Wednesday, which centered on the status of pandemic hard-hit industries, over a year after COVID-19 reached the country.
Congrep, according to Carillo, was asked by the government to transform their production to personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure its steady supply in the country during the health crisis.
In July, 5 member-companies of Congep formed the Coalition of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (PCMP) and invested $35 million to meet the demand of producing “medical grade” PPEs, according to Carillo.
Since then, their group has been ready to produce and supply such, but the country still bought low-cost PPEs from China, she said.
“Unfortunately, the way the government purchases the PPE is subject to certain standard rule for purchasing. We were subjected to the lowest cost," explained Carillo.
"Unfortunately at that time, the Philippine market was flooded with very low cost PPEs from China. Some of them were even sub-standard,” she added.
Because of this, she urged the senators to craft a more defined policy regarding the government’s stock-piling program, to ensure the country’s steady supply of PPEs.
Senators Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Koko Pimentel, and economic committee chairperson Imee Marcos, immediately expressed their support to Carillo’s call to prioritize the buying of Filipino-made PPEs to also help the sector.
Prior to this, Hontiveros filed a resolution seeking to investigate why the government was not prioritizing locally-made PPEs which are medical grade.
“It’s just smacks of unfairness or bad faith to have asked them to repurpose to serve our pandemic response needs, and then to not order. Whatever stock they already have produced and have stockpiled," according to Hontiveros.
"At least bigyan sila ng first option.. we should have given the chance to our Filipino manufacturers. Inobliga na nga natin, bakit hindi natin in-order-an,” the senator pointed out.
(They should be given an option first. We obligated them then we would not order from them?)
Carillo added that their production was enough to supply the government’s requirement of 4.8 million PPEs, but the order did not commence due to changes in the specifications of the target items.
“As written, our government standards are below international standards?” Senator Pimentel, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Trade and Industry asked.
“[T]he conflict I think came out in terms of specifying the bidding requirements,” Carillo said.
Specifications and the wordings in the requirements have paved the way for the entry of lower quality of non-surgical PPEs, the senators alleged.
According to Marcos, the problem stemmed from the introduction of “level 4 or equivalent.”
“Ang sabi ng DOH yung US standard. Yung medical grade talaga. Level 4 kasi iba-iba naman yung PPE ano, pero level 4 dapat talaga para surgical. Okay naman yun, kaya lang isiningit yung ‘level 4 or equivalent,’ kaso wala namang equivalent yung kung walang testing," said Marcos.
(The DOH said we need to pattern it to US standards, as in medical grade. We need to pattern it to level 4 so it follows the surgical standards. What's the reason behind inserting 'level 4 or equivalent' in the requirement when it does not have any equivalent if it did not undergo testing.)
"Ang nangyari wala namang capacity to test yung DOH or yung PTIC (Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC)) or even yung DBM (Department of Budget and Management),” she added.
(The DOH, PTIC, and DBM does not have any capacity to test the PPEs)
“Yung pagsingit nung ‘or equivalent' actually introduced discretion. That’s the problem,” Pimentel added.
(Inserting the word "equivalent" introduced discretion)
Pimentel has assured the group of his committee’s eventual investigation on the matter.
PH MANUFACTURERS LOOKING FOR BUYERS
Due to the uncertainty of the market for these locally-made PPEs, the group is now trying to find possible buyers abroad, according to Maria Teresita Jocson-Agoncillo of the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (Conwep).
“Basically, they are semi-closed, and we only open it up when we get orders… if you don’t’ have orders especially for the cover-alls, the gowns, we are looking at the export market at the moment. We’re trying to get in the export market,” Jocson-Agoncillo said.
“Nakakatawa no? Tayo yung magsu-supply sa labas. Tapos yung yung sariling atin, hindi natin ma-supply,” Binay said.
(It is funny because we are suppliers but we don't have our own supplies.)
Binay has asked the DBM to submit the list of PPE winning bidders since last year.
Conwep, the mother organization of Congep, has already retrenched some 20,000 out of its more than 120,000 regular workers as of December 2020, Jocson-Agoncillo noted.
Meanwhile, Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo maintained that interested suppliers should follow the requirements as stated by the procurement law.
“Of the requirements, I think this time it was already awarded to, of course, yung ating mga imported na PPEs. But they can always participate naman madam chair, given this is a public bidding naman,” Toledo told the committee.
“Marami pa naman tayong pangangailangan at tuluy-tuloy pa naman ang ating pagpo-procure,” he added.
(We still have a lot of needs and we need to continue procuring these)
Jocson-Agoncillo meantime appealed to the government to now include garment workers in the A4 vaccination list so that they can soon safely return to work.
The A4 priority group refers to frontliners of essential sectors. These include market vendors, supermarket and food retail workers, and other workers who are required to interact with the public due to their work.
Dan Lachica, president of Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc. (SEIPI), underlined the need to improve the government’s consultation process before issuing a policy, to ensure a steady business environment in the country.
In the same hearing, the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers appealed to senators to refrain from passing additional tax measures at this point in consideration of their situation.
The Philippine Association of Stores and Carinderia owners (PASCO) meantime asked for more government assistance like manageable and unrestricted loans from the the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Trade and labor officials present have assured the committee of the government’s steady assistance to sectors affected by the pandemic.
DOH: NOT FAVORING ANY PARTICULAR PPE SOURCE
In a message to reporters, the Department of Health (DOH) said it "never favored" any particular PPE manufacturer.
The agency also pointed out that the procurement service of DBM serves as DOH's procuring arm for PPEs and "other commodities for the pandemic."
"The DOH only provides the technical specifications of the PPEs and equipment that it needs," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained.
Vergeire added that the agency is planning to further collaborate with DTI and Conwep "for additional orders of locally-made PPEs."
"The DOH recognizes the impact of the pandemic on the garments industry, this is why last year, the DOH and the DTI tapped garment industry associations and private firms through Conwep for the local production of PPEs in order to help boost the industry," she noted.
The Philippines this week passed more than 1 million total COVID-19 cases, with deaths breaching 17,000 on Wednesday.
- With reports from Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News