COVID-19 vaccine might be delayed if coursed through state trading firm: Recto

Katrina Domingo and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 19 2020 02:52 PM

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. Dado Ruvic, Reuters/file

MANILA - Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday flagged a possible delay in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines if the government will not reconsider its earlier decision to course the purchase through state trading company Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC).

The Commission on Audit has instructed PITC to return funding of several projects which it failed to disburse over the years, Recto said during budget debates in the Senate.

"We have a concern with the track record of PITC," Recto said.

"Ang daming pending with PITC on bidding… In effect it circumvents the budget, and if it's not delivered, hindi napapakinabangan ng taumbayan yan... I think it’s bad budgeting practice," he said.

(The PITC has a lot of pending items on bidding... In effect it circumvents the budget, and if it's not delivered, the public would not benefit from it... I think it’s bad budgeting practice.)

"I am not saying I am against the use of a government corporation to purchase it, but why not just provide the appropriation [to a department]?" he said. 

Citing information from audit documents, Recto said the PITC has undelivered purchase orders for the following government offices:
- Philippine Army (P5.4 billion)
- Department of Information and Communications Technology (P3.5 billion)
- Bureau of Customs (P2.8 billion)
- Department of Health (P2.1 billion)

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also questioned why several government agencies have been coursing their procurement through the PITC, when under the law, the state trading firm should "only engage in import or export trading of products not normally procured by traditional sector."

"How does the PITC justify doing procurement for fire stations? It is not import and export trading. It is construction of fire stations," he said, referring to one of the projects lodged within the government-owned and controlled corporation.

Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara said government agencies have been coursing procurement through PITC to avoid having their budgets reverted to the National Treasury.

"Kapag nagmamadali na sila, pag late na 'yung release... they are under pressure to bid it out because the money may revert," Angara said.

(When they are rushing, when their budget was released late... they are under pressure to bid it out because the money may revert.)

"Kapag nilipat po sa PITC, wala pong ganung time pressure," said Angara, who is defending the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry where the PITC is under.

(If they downlod it to the PITC, they are relieved of the kind of time pressure.)

The delays are not usually with the PITC, but with government departments who fail to submit the terms of reference needed for the transactions, he said, citing information from Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

"Sometimes, it's not just the fault of the PITC. Sometimes, it is also the fault of other government agencies," he said.

The government is expected to use the PITC to borrow some P20 billion from state-run banks to procure COVID-19 vaccines from various suppliers next year.

Recto said this may set a bad precedent for borrowings in the future.

"It is not a good practice that any government coroporation can borrow from Development Bank of the Philippines or LandBank, and in the years to come, Congress is asked for appropriation to pay for that," he said.

Angara said there are also other agencies that will acquire the vaccine using the appropriations from the national budget.

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