MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday denied corruption in the government's procurement of anti-coronavirus masks and face shields, which some lawmakers questioned this week.
Some senators had noted the lack of a memorandum of agreement when the health department transferred some P42 billion to the budget department for the procurement.
They also asked why some items bought with the money appeared overpriced, including anti-virus masks at P27 each and face shields worth P122 a piece.
Duterte said the items were procured from March to April 2020, when "prices of medical supplies... skyrocketed due to the scarcity of the supply and the abrupt increase in demand."
He said he "distinctly" remembers instructing Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to go ahead with procuring these items.
"I want to make it of record to the public and everybody that I and the Cabinet knew about it. On my order, sabi ko (I said), go ahead and buy the things that you need to fight—pandemic nga e," Duterte said in a taped national address that aired on Saturday.
"Sabi ko emergency ito, emergency hanggang ngayon. So just to disabuse the minds of some people about corruption... I suppose that you are barking at the wrong person," he added.
(I said this is an emergency, it's an emergency until now.)
Video courtesy of PTV
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines had only one local manufacturer of these supplies at the start of the pandemic, and the firm "was an exporter and all its products were practically exported."
He said supply from other countries was also thin, as they tried to contain their own COVID-19 outbreaks. The fabric and other materials for the mask were also depleted, he said.
"Kung locally magagawa na natin, mataas ang presyo; kung bibilhin din abroad, mataas na rin ang presyo," Lopez said during the President's address.
(If we could do it locally, the price would be high; if we buy it abroad, the price was also high.)
He said the trade and health departments had to set the suggested retail price of masks at P28 per piece.
When face shields were eventually required, the supply was also thin. Prices ranged at P60 to P100 for face shields with eye frames, and at P250 to P350 for helmet-type designs, he said.
The supply eventually stabilized and "prices now are really low," noted the trade chief.