Video from the Senate
MANILA— Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday defended his agency for allowing the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to buy allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE) last year, as country grappled with its shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the day's Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Duque said many of the country's face masks and other medical supplies supposedly almost ran out after it went to evacuees and health workers during the eruption of the Taal Volcano in January last year.
Just weeks later, the country confirmed its first COVID-19 case.
"We were all concerned for the protection of our health care workers, and the President was very vocal about this concern for [their] protection," Duque told senators.
"Wala tayong makuhang supply, 'yan ang malaking problema natin, walang-wala po tayo, in fact 'yung mga natira naming supplies naubos sa Taal Volcano, binigay namin 'yung mga mask, talagang wala kaming makuha," he added.
(We didn't know where to source our supply. That's one of our biggest problems. We don't know where to get it. The supplies that we have were all used up in the Taal Volcano, we gave the masks and we don't know where to source it.)
The health chief was responding to queries of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on which agency should be responsible for the allegedly overpriced PPEs that PS-DBM procured.
"Alam ng agency 'yung standard and ng specifications, at sinabi sa inyo, this is the quality that we want... kung alam pala nila kung anong kailangan nila... eh di dapat sila na ang nag-bid," Recto said.
(The DOH knows the standard and the specifications, and they told you that this is what we want. Why didn't the DOH bid instead?)
But Duque pointed out that the health department's procurement absorptive capacity "was really, really poor" as many of their employees or officials by that time were in isolation or in quarantine.
Some local PPE manufacturers cannot also handle the demand that they need, he said, which was why they decided to turn to the PS-DBM.
"Kung mayroon naman tayong alam na pagkukuhanan (ng PPE) tulad ng sa Bataan, wala naman silang volume, hindi naman daw sila makagawa ng sapat na mga PPEs or mga face masks, nagka-problema din sila sa raw materials," according to Duque.
(If we know where to get the PPE, like in Bataan, they can't handle the volume and they can't make enough PPEs or face masks. They also encountered a problem in raw materials.)
"Talaga pong walang-wala tayo. Kaya talagang we were desperate, that's the word that I'd like to use."
(We didn't have anything. Which was why we were desperate, that's the word I'd like to use.)
Even if local manufacturers were tapped to meet the demand, PS-DBM has its own procurement process that "does not involve them," the health official noted.
But Recto emphasized that their non-involvement with the procurement process made the situation questionable.
He said he would propose a law "limiting the role of PS-DBM and PITC or even clarifying their accountabilities."
"That's my problem... 'yung hindi kami kasama sa proseso. Again the accountability issue, magtuturuan eh, ang pera galing sa inyo pero bahala sila, sila 'yung nag-bid diyan, 'di ako 'yung nakapirma diyan, 'yan 'yung nangyayari," he added.
(We were not part of the process. It's a problem of accountability. The money was from you but you allowed them to bid just because it wasn't your signature there. That's what happened.)
"That is the point I am driving at, there must be clear accountabilities. 'Yan ang problema, na nagkakasabay (That's the problem, those happen at the same time)."
Senators exposed alleged irregularities in the previous procurement of personal protective equipment through the PS-DBM.
Senator Franklin Drilon earlier said Duque's authorization of the transfer of P47.5 billion in health department funds to the agency was the beginning of a "grand corruption."
The Senate panel is investigating how the DOH used the country's P67-billion COVID-19 response last year that the Commission on Audit flagged for "deficiencies."