MANILA - Sen. Grace Poe on Wednesday questioned the Department of Health's (DOH) decision to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) sets that were at least P800 more expensive than those in the market as government continued to source funds to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The DOH procured PPEs at P1,800 each when market value was between P400 and P1,000, Poe said in a statement.
"Confronting an extraordinary public health crisis requires prompt response but in doing so, let us not forget the need for the judicious use of fund releases," Poe said, noting that the government could have saved at least P800 million if the DOH instead bought PPEs worth P1,000 each.
"Ang bawat piso na matitipid natin sa ganitong panahon ay maaari pa nating magamit sa iba pang mga programa ng gobyerno para makapagbigay ayuda sa ating mga kababayan na higit ring nangangailangan ng tulong tulad ng financial aid at pagkain pang araw-araw," she said.
(Every peso we save can be used for other programs that would aid people who need help for their daily needs, like financial aid and food.)
The DOH could have procured PPEs from local manufacturers to save public funds, the senator said.
"Tulad ng pahayag ng Pangulo, hindi ito panahon ng pagsasamantala, kaya't nananawagan tayo sa DOH na kung maaari ay iprayoridad ang pakikipag-ugnayan sa mga local manufacturers upang mas makakuha ng murang PPE," she said.
(Like the President said, this is not a time for opportunism, so I am calling on DOH to give priority to coordinating with local manufacturers to get more affordable PPEs.)
Congress' oversight panel should look into the procurement of the allegedly overpriced PPEs to check if the "price is reasonable," Sen. Joel Villanueva told reporters in a text message.
"We know that the global demand for these equipment are increasing, and naturally, their prices will increase and will be greater than what they used to be before the pandemic," he said.
"A little penny pinching of the government still goes a long way to stretch our budget and help provide for all our people, especially those in the frontlines and the most vulnerable like the no work, no pay sector," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte should not ignore the allegations against DSWD, especially if these are "proven by convincing evidence," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
"Considering that this is a different level of greed and corruption especially at a time of national crisis, Congress as well as the Filipino people may not be forgiving or nonchalant anymore," he said.
The DOH earlier said that some 1 million sets of PPEs are set to be delivered to the Philippines and distributed to health workers and other frontliners.
Hospitals earlier appealed to the public to donate face masks, hazmat suits, surgical gloves, alcohol and other medical equipment as their supplies dwindled due to the influx of coronavirus patients and suspected cases.
Some distilleries and cosmetics giants have donated their own supply of alcohol and PPEs to hospitals, while local designers, groups and individuals have crafted their own versions of PPEs to help augment resources in facilities catering to coronavirus patients.
The Health department should fasttrack the distribution of PPEs and other medical equipment, including those donated by the private sector, Poe said.
"The DOH could further streamline its processes in making donated PPEs readily available to hospitals and frontliners in light of the increasing number of infections every day," her statement read.
ABS-CBN News asked DOH for a comment, but the agency's officials have yet to respond.
As of March 31, at least 2,084 patients in the Philippines have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those infected, 88 have died, while 49 have recovered.