MANILA — A former budget official on Friday said he was ready to face the Senate as it looked into the Department of Health's P42-billion fund transfer to his office.
Some senators this week noted the lack of a memorandum of agreement when the funds were transferred to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
They also asked why some items bought with the money appeared overpriced, including anti-virus masks at P27 each and face shields worth P122 apiece.
Lloyd Christopher Lao, an undersecretary who headed the PS-DBM during the transaction, said he was willing to attend the Senate hearing as “it’s my responsibility.”
“I believe the objectivity of the Senate, the Blue Ribbon Committee… that it is fair and just, and it is a proper and appropriate avenue for me to shed light on what actually transpired,” Lao said in a televised public briefing.
“It is actually a good thing because people make assumptions without all the facts. It is best that all facts are laid,” he added.
Video courtesy of PTV
Lao said a memorandum of agreement for the transaction was not required because the items were considered “common supplies” that are regularly procured, similar to laptops, ball pens, toilet paper, and rubbing alcohol.
The PS-DBM buys these items for agencies because most of them “do not have a regular procurement process,” he said.
“They don’t really procure items as part of their regular performance of their function,” added Lao.
“To procure these items needs specialization, needs manpower, needs time, needs effort. In order to not dilute the manpower and resources and time of these agencies, a different agency is focused and performs the function for them. And that is the Procurement Service.”
He acknowledged that currently, a P27 price tag for a face mask “is so expensive, even I will not buy that.” But the PS-DBM bought face masks at this price point at a time when “everybody was scampering” and supplies were low, he said.
“Very few” suppliers joined the bidding for the masks and most offered higher prices, added Lao.
“‘Pag sinabi mong mahal ‘yang P27, yes, mahal ‘yan (If you say that P27 is pricey, yes, it is). But during that time, that was one of the cheapest,” he added.
DBM officer-in-charge Tina Canda this week told senators she remembers the agency's executive committee questioning the COVID-19 safety gear were purchased at such high prices.
She said she did not know why Lao resigned from the DBM last June.
Lao said he “cannot recall” any concern from his colleagues against the procurement.
TIES TO BONG GO
Lao said he was somehow “bored” and was looking for opportunities to grow when he resigned from the DBM.
He said he applied for the post of Overall Deputy Ombudsman after, but “people were making it political, so I withdrew my appointment and tendered my resignation.”
He did not elaborate, but instead said he planned to go back to private law practice.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go on Thursday denied Lao previously worked as his aide.
The lawmaker, a former longtime aide of President Rodrigo Duterte, said Lao was a “volunteer election lawyer” during President Rodrigo Duterte's 2016 campaign.
“To politicize this is also very unfair, yes, for the politicians tied up to me, that’s unfair for them, also for me because I’m doing this for my own profession and my own upliftment,” Lao said in the public briefing.