MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the manner in which his administration bought personal protective equipment and test kits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, blasting some senators probing it.
Duterte said in a taped public briefing that the said purchases, particularly by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), was valid under the first version of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1 implemented March 2020.
Bayanihan 1, which was signed into law on March 25, 2020 and mandated to be in effect for 3 months until June 24 of the same year, granted Duterte additional powers to respond to the pandemic, such as the authority to realign items under the 2020 national budget.
The President said that under Bayanihan 1 the administration legally bought supplies to address the COVID-19 pandemic without the usual requirements and steps that would slow the process of procurement.
"What we followed was the emergency form of procurements stipulated under Bayanihan 1 passed by no less some of the people questioning it today, which exempted us from these procedures so we can buy these supplies," Duterte said.
Senators have said the administration bypassed some of the procedures and requirements under the Constitution in acquiring COVID-19 test kits, PPEs and other equipment.
They criticized Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and the Department of Health for transferring P42 billion worth of pandemic response funds to the PS-DBM, saying it was questionable.
Duque argued that the transfer, meant for the purchase of PPEs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, was supported by the Government Procurement Policy Board's Resolution No. 03-2020, which he said allowed government agencies to adopt "efficient, effective and expedient procurement procedures during a state of public health emergency."
"Akala ko ba 'yan ang gusto ninyo? So, pagdating ng panahon, piniprito niyo si Duque. (I thought that's what you wanted? Now you're all questioning Duque). Duque had nothing to do with it. DOH was not the purchasing entity. It was PS-DBM. All he had to do was to accept the delivery," Duterte said.
He lashed out at senators, particularly Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, for "debating technicalities" amid the pandemic.
"You do not go into such trivial matters, as long as the property, the money of the republic was protected, and that the goods we bought reached to their intended beneficiaries," Duterte said.
The COA earlier flagged "deficiencies" in the health department's funds of some P67 billion which it said led to "missed opportunities" to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had said the DOH's decision to transfer funds was to "mask its unobligation rate and inefficiency."
The department failed to spend P24 billion or 31.17 percent of COVID-19 funds granted to the agency, Drilon noted during a session of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's investigation on the COA's preliminary report about deficiencies in the DOH's spending of its funds.
A former head of DBM also earlier said the fund transfer from the DOH to the PS-DBM was a violation of the Constitution due to the lack of MOA between the two agencies.
Duterte has defended Duque against the COA's preliminary findings against the DOH, saying funds for pandemic-related programs were not stolen.