MANILA—Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday questioned the Department of Health’s decision to buy COVID-19 testing machines and swabbing kits for more than twice the price of similar equipment bought by private companies.
A private company bought nucleic acid extractors needed to process coronavirus tests for P1.75 million each, while the DOH got the machines for P4 million a piece, Lacson said in a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing.
Lacson added: “Ang swabbing system, binili ng private sector $16 (P800) each. Ang binili ng DOH, bakit doble?”
The DOH did not “directly procure” the equipment in question, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said, noting that health officials sought the Department of Budget and Management’s help (DBM) in sourcing medical facility suppliers.
“We had to ask help of DBM because at around that time when we were beginning to ramp up testing capacity, 56 including senior officials had to be put on quarantine,” Duque said.
“DBM has a much wider network of local and international suppliers. We were thinking they would be able to get at very competitive if not reasonable pricing points.”
Budget Usec. Llyod Christopher Lao said the private sector bought a different brand manufactured in China.
The DBM can only procure based on the agency's request, he added.
“Since the APR (agency procurement request) issued to us is very specific and brand-based, you can only buy that specific brand. In this case, Thermo Science Kingfisher,” Lao said, referring to procurement documents issued by government agencies.
While procurement laws usually bar officials from citing a particular brand, the Bayanihan Act allows it as the item “should be based on the decision of the agency,” Lao added.
“ ‘Pag bumili kami ng ibang item, baka hindi nila tanggapin, hindi nila bayaran, matatamaan kami ng COA (Commission on Audit),” he said.
The P4-million equipment needed to be bought because other brands were not compatible with US-manufactured machines in Philippine laboratories, Duque said after clarification from the DBM.
Lacson, who eventually dropped the topic, said he “did not understand” Duque’s explanation.
The DOH's COVID-19 expenditure has amounted to P35.2 billion, Duque said.
The amount was used to fund research, buy testing machines, and hire additional job order personnel, among others, he said.
The DOH will also submit an expenditure report to the Senate next week, said Duque, who added that his department will also “cooperate fully” with the Senate should it launch an investigation into the agency’s COVID-19 expenses.