PhilHealth officials tried to buy 'nearly obsolete' network switches for P320K each: ex-official

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2020 01:57 PM

PhilHealth officials tried to buy 'nearly obsolete' network switches for P320K each: ex-official 1
COVID-19 patients who have paid for their treatment can reimburse the costs from the PhilHealth, an agency official said. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - Several Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) officials tried to buy 15 "nearly obsolete" network switches for P320,000 each, the resigned top aide of the insurance firm's president said Tuesday.

PhilHealth wanted to buy Cisco 2960-XR24 port - an apparatus used to manage computing devices in a local area network - for P320,000 when it was nearly off the market, said Etrobal Laborte, the resigned head executive assistant of PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales.

"'Yung item na 'yan ay medyo luma na. Nag-depreciate na 'yung price niya overtime... Obsolete na 'yung 2960 [kasi] 2016 pa 'yun," Laborte said in a Senate investigation into alleged irregularities in PhilHealth.

(That item is a bit old. The price has depreciated overtime... The 2960 is already obsolete, that came out in 2016.)

PhilHealth should have purchased the Cisco 9200 24 Port - a newer model - that was only priced at P62,000 per unit, Laborte said.

PhilHealth's senior vice president for Information Management Sector Jovita Aragona tried to debunk Laborte's claim, saying the former top aide was presenting a different kind of Cisco product that had different technical specifications.

But Laborte - a former IT officer at the United Nations - presented a document showing that Aragona signed the papers approving the procurement of the said device.

"Ma'am hindi po yan (Cisco 2960-XR24) 'yung binibili natin. End of last support and end of service support na 'yan nung 2019... Ayan po, nakapirma po kayo," Laborte told Aragona as the documents were flashed on the Senate's screen.

(Ma'am that was not what we bought. The service support ended in 2019. Here, you signed.) 

Aragona tried to insist that the Cisco products were different, but Sen. Panfilo Lacson warned her not to "fool" senators.

"Wag mo lokohin 'yung 24 senators. Para ma-justify mo 'yung binibili mo, iniiba mo 'yung specs," Lacson said.

(Do not fool the 24 senators. To justify what you bought, you changed the specs.)

"End of sale na siya nung July. Kung end of sale, hindi na 'yan available sa market. Bakit ka pa magce-certify na 'yan ang bibilhin ng August 5 kung hindi na available?" he asked.

(The sale ended in July. That means that was no longer available in the market. Why would you certify that that should be the one to procure on August 5 if it's no longer available?)

"Niloloko niyo kami iba 'yung binibili niyo eh you have your signature fixed here," he said.

(You are fooling us that you are acquiring something else when you have your signature fixed here.)

Laborte said he had written to Morales about the discrepancy.

In his memo and conversations with Morales, Laborte said that the agency should not procure items based on their price in 2016, as the prices of these gadgets have already depreciated.

"Maliit na apparatus lang po ito (Cisco switch) na kaya buhatin ng 5-year-old na bata so bakit po namin ito bibilhin ng [halos] P400,000? Ano po ba ito kotse?" Laborte told senators.

(This is just a small device that a 5-year-old could carry, so why will be buy this for almost P400,000?)

Laborte - a former Marine colonel and a Cisco certified network associate - also questioned why suppliers of several IT equipment were being asked to charge for the training of some IT officials in PhilHealth.

"Kung ipapa-shoulder sa supplier 'yung training, it is a form of a bribe. Bago ka pumasok sa opisina as an IT person, dapat marunong ka na. Hindi dun ka pa lang mag-aaral sa loob," he said.

(When you ask the supplier to shoulder training, it is a form of a bribe. Before you enter an office as an IT person, you should already have know-how and not just start training when you come in.)

The PhilHealth chief has yet to act on Laborte's recommendation to launch an investigation into the alleged padding of prices in the insurance agency's IT department.

Morales, in a press conference last week, defended the procurement of the allegedly overpriced equipment, saying some officals have been trying to discredit the agency's modernization program as it would make flagging irregularities easier.

Lacson ended the exchange with an open ended question: "Who will be made liable for the attempted overpricing of equipment?"

"Hindi lang overpriced ito. It's grossly overpriced," he said.

(This is not just overpriced. This is grossly overpriced.)