MANILA - Senators on Tuesday questioned why local hospitals had supposedly bought personal protective equipment (PPEs) initially procured by a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) even if government funds have already been used for the purchase.
Citing Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Michael Aguinaldo's statement in a House of Representatives hearing last week, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said regional offices and hospitals no longer wanted to get PPE supplies sourced by the Procurement Service of the DBM (PS-DBM) due to its high cost.
PS-DBM is an agency that buys commonly-used supplies for government offices in bulk and at cheaper costs.
"The main observation po ng resident auditor was that there's really a problem with the inventory management... itong mga regional hospitals ng DOH, ayaw nang kumuha sa PS-DBM kasi sabi nila, napakamahal ng sa inyo, eh we can just go across the street and buy 3 to 4 times less," Sotto said, quoting Aguinaldo.
(The regional hospitals no longer want to get items from PS-DBM because it's too expensive, we can just go across the street and buy 3 to 4 times less.)
The senator was confused why the DOH's regional offices would need to buy items earlier bought using government funds.
"Bakit sila kailangan bumili sa PS-DBM eh pera ng DOH ang pinambili nila?... P42 billion nga 'yung nalipat eh. Medyo nahihirapan ako intindihin," Sotto noted.
(Why do they need to buy from PS-DBM when they used DOH's money? They transferred P42 billion. I cannot understand.)
Sen. Imee Marcos earlier also said the overpriced PPE procured by the DBM are being sold to local governments instead of being distributed for free.
But lawyer Jasommer Uayan, PS-DBM's executive director, clarified that the agency could only sell PPEs bought using their budget.
According to Uayan, the PS-DBM has two types of procurement: one using revolving funds and the other, which uses their own funds.
The revolving funds involve the budget of other agencies which they use for buying common use supplies and equipment just like what other agencies, like the DOH, did, the DBM official pointed out.
"In the case of DOH, they transferred funds specifically for their own need, everytime we receive a request for DOH, we bought it for them, the items that we bought from our own funds, that is what we are selling to the regional, to various agencies. That is the clarification," Uayan explained.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed with Uayan, likening DBM's other mode of procurement as a store.
Duque also said that it was important to highlight which regional hospitals bought these items from the PS-DBM so matters could be clarified.
"'Yun pong PS-DBM parang mayroon silang tindahan, sariling mga supplies na binebenta, ang magandang tanong diyan, is the regional DOH, kung mayroon nga silang pinamili, kailan ito at ano itong bilang ng kanilang pinamili para maging malinaw," he said.
(They have their own store where they sell their own supplies. It should be asked when did the regional offices buy this?)
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Gordon criticized the procurement process and said it could have led to government incurring bigger losses.
Aguinaldo, meanwhile, pointed out that PS-DBM might have failed to sell the PPEs at a fair price after its cost went down late last year.
"I think one thing we have to consider, siguro dahil pandemya din... takot rin naman sila na baka mamaya later on, kulang ang volume at masisi naman sila... there's a lot of stocks, they're saying baka kulang ang push to actually distribute this or at least get rid of it, naabutan na 'yung time na bumagsak na ang presyo," he said.
(The pandemic is still ongoing and they are afraid that maybe they did not buy enough. There's a lot of stocks... maybe the time came when the prices dropped.)
But Uayan said they tried to match the price of PPEs being sold by manufacturer EMS, which was originally selling face masks at P13.50.
When prices went down by December, they were selling it at P2.35 each.
"That is why we invoked the clause in the contract with EMS, the right to match considering that they participated in the December bidding offering surgical masks at P2.35. The original contract lowered down from P13.50 to P2.35," he said.
Gordon blasted the PS-DBM for what happened, and for trying to shift the blame to EMS.
"Lumalabas na nasisi pa ngayon ang nag-bid nang mababa. Eh nagbigay ng pinakamababa sa lahat eh sila pa ang may kasalanan. Tatanga-tanga kayo eh, bumili kayo, bababaan namin, tapos di niyo mabenta," he said.
(It turns out that you're blaming the firm that sold it at a lower price. You are stupid, you bought it then you want this firm to lower the price because you cannot sell it)
Sotto deferred the matter to the COA, noting that the committee could use it to prevent such from happening in the future.
Senators are investigating irregularities in the previous procurement of personal protective equipment through the PS-DBM.
The COA had earlier questioned the DOH's decision to transfer P42 billion to the PS-DBM without proper documentation.