MANILA (UPDATE) - Former officials of the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service (PS-DBM) on Monday said they were asked to approve pandemic supplies last year without actually seeing and checking the goods.
Raul Catalan, former chief of the PS-DBM's accounting unit, allegedly ordered the "irregular" practice, said Jorge Mendoza, former officer-in-charge of the agency's inspection team.
"There was this instance during pandemic time, there was no supply of PPEs, we had to resort to China," Mendoza told members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
"Wala pang delivery (There was no delivery yet) but we were advised or instructed to prepare the inspection document considering that it will be an attachment to Chinese suppliers once PPEs arrive sa Pilipinas," he said.
Mervin Tanquintic, Mendoza's former deputy, said he received the same instructions for two supply deals from China.
"This is not the normal procedure," Mendoza said.
Mendoza and Tanquintic did not specify which companies benefitted from the questionable order from "management."
While some items were inspected before the issuance of proper approval documents, the testing requirement for several medical supplies had to be waived at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Mendoza said.
Government agencies which conducted the testing for these supplies were unavailable last year because they were on lockdown, he said.
"We've also inquired with private testing centers. Kaya lang po (but), they can provide the testing kaya lang po (but) not locally," he said.
"It has to be brought abroad. At that time po, wala naman pong (there were no) commerical flights... It will take time. Ang pinakamabilis po (The fastest they can do is) 3-4 weeks for the samples to be tested," he said.
The PS-DBM instead came up with its own guidelines on how to test the efficacy of surgical face masks it procured from China, Mendoza said.
"We did na lang po the best we could do to conduct the inspection... We devised our own test na hindi siya magli-leak (to see if it will not leak)," he said.
The premature issuance of inspection papers for pandemic supplies and skirting several testing procedures are the latest irregularities the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee unveiled in its investigation into the PS-DBM's transactions.
The Senate panel earlier found that the PS-DBM awarded at least P11 billion in government contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation even if it only had about P600 million in capital.
On Monday, the panel learned that Pharmally delivered 500,000 surgical face masks to the PS-DBM days before the agency issued purchase orders.
PS-DBM records showed that of the P42 billion transferred to it by the Department of Health, P12 billion were awarded to Pharmally.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan instructed the PS-DBM to submit an explanation as to why Mendoza, who has been working for the agency for 31 years, was laid off earlier this year.
"We want to know if this is an effort to keep the lid, to remove people who know something," he said.
Health Secretary Fransisco Duque III and former Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lao maintained that no corruption happened in the deal with Pharmally.
“If we are asked questions and if we are given leeway to answer, we can answer correctly. As to inconsistencies of answers between different agencies- mahirap po iyon kasi magkakaiba po kami ng mga stand,” Lao said when asked by Senator Manny Pacquiao why it seems difficult for him to answer the senators' questions.
Controversial former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang, meanwhile, failed to appear before the committee hearing despite 2 arrest warrants.
Yang, a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, claimed in a previous Senate hearing that he did not have anything to do with Pharmally even though an official of the firm admitted borrowing money from the Davao-based businessman.
The Senate committee will continue its investigation on Friday, Sept. 17.