Lack of staff delay routing and signing of circular
MANILA – Millions worth of medical supplies recovered by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from hoarders and profiteers are expected to be used by frontliners after agency heads signed Wednesday an inter-agency circular allowing the use of such items despite pending criminal cases.
DOJ spokesperson Usec Markk Perete said the inter-agency circular has been signed by the heads of the Department of Justice, Department of Trade and Industry, the Bureau of Customs, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture.
It sets out the procedure for the proper seizure, forfeiture and disposition of confiscated items under the Price Act and Customs Law.
The NBI said on Friday, April 17, it has confiscated P41.7 million worth of medical supplies since the start of the COVID19 lockdown. These include personal protective equipment, alcohol, hand sanitizers, thermal scanners, and surgical and face masks.
The circular is necessary because confiscated goods are usually needed as evidence in court and could not be released until after trial.
“The confiscated goods should have been used as evidence in the prosecution of the offense. But since they will be forfeited or disposed for immediate use in the fight against COVID-19, the inventory will take the place of the physical evidence. (Of course, samples will be retained by our prosecutors.),” Perete said in message exchange with reporters.
On March 30, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said prosecutors will retain "representative samples" as evidence and release the rest of the confiscated items to frontline agencies.
It took 3 weeks since Guevarra's "approval in principle" before all agency heads could finally sign the inter-agency circular. At the time Guevarra made the March 30 statement, the circular was already being finalized.
Perete said they have been following up with the concerned agencies “almost every day.”
“Ang sagot sa amin, natatagalan daw routing dahil marami ang wala sa kanilang staff,” he explained.
As of 11 a.m. of April 22, the DOH Secretary and another agency head have yet to sign. But by 1pm of the same day, Perete said all heads have signed.
CONTENTS OF THE CIRCULAR
The DOJ has yet to provide a copy of the circular, but Perete said the provisions under the Price Act and the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act allowing disposition of goods pending litigation in times of emergency, are its bases.
“The procedure requires that the confiscated goods be turned over to DTI or BOC, depending on the basis for confiscation/offense of the party/ies,” Perete explained.
“The DTI and BOC conduct seizure proceedings. Then the goods are either forfeited in favor of the government, or disposed of, according to the Price Act or Customs Law. In case of disposition, the government is given preference. Once the goods are forfeited or disposed to the government, these will be distributed to hospitals after confirmation with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) that the goods are safe to use,” he added.
Perete also said the circular provides the basis for inter-agency coordination and set out the procedure for the transfer of custody of the goods.
As of early this month, some private hospitals in Metro Manila have reported shortage of medical supplies.