MANILA - The Senate will look into alleged irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontliners battling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) this week when the chamber summons Cabinet members to a series of hearings, the body's Health Committee chair said Monday.
In April, Sen. Grace Poe said the government bought hazmat suits for P1,800 each when market prices ranged between P400 and P1,000. On Sunday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said some coronavirus testing units worth $12 (P600) per kit were procured at $32 (P1,600) each.
"We will require the Department of Health, Department of Budget Management and other concerned agencies to explain," Senate Health Committee chair Christopher "Bong" Go told reporters in a text message.
"The funds made available to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of our people at this crucial time should be accounted for--up to the last centavo, and the public deserves to know how it is spent," he said.
Minority Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan aired a similar statement, saying it is "unconscionable how some individuals could even think of exploiting the purchase of medical supplies" during the health crisis.
"By jacking up prices of supplies such as swab kits and personal protective equipment, we get less units that what is needed, depriving the people and medical frontliners of the defenses they need to fight COVID-19," Pangilinan said.
"Gusto rin nating malaman ang katotohanan tungkol dito. 'Steal as one' ba ang nangyayari sa pagbili ng mga anti-COVID medical supplies?" he said, alluding to the government's "Heal as One" call for unity during the global pandemic.
(We also want to know the truth here. Did they pull a "steal as one" in the procurement of anti-COVID medical supplies?)
Go said he plans to raise the issue during the Committee of the Whole meeting this week, when Cabinet members and senators convene in a hybrid session to discuss the status of the Philippines' fight against COVID-19.
Some senators urged other government agencies to conduct parallel investigations.
"While emergency measures are being practiced, government should start an investigation on the allegations," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
"If there is evidence, then those with actual knowledge should file a case with the Ombudsman or even the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee," Sen. Sonny Angara said.
"We have a government auditing system. The Commission on Audit should look into it and let us wait for COA’s [Commission on Audit] findings," Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel said.
Last week, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. denied allegations that there were irregularities in the procurement of PPE sets amounting to P20 billion.
“The procurement for another three million PPE sets worth P20 billion is ongoing and this will cover June to August," he said.
"We are stockpiling on PPE sets because this COVID-19 might last until 2021,” he said.