After some senators last week accused the government of buying personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits at an overprice under his watch, Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao on Monday (Sept. 21) said similar items bought by the Aquino administration near the end of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s term were even more expensive by at least 50 percent.
Lao sent a copy of the Sept. 28, 2015 purchase order of the Department of Health (DOH) which showed that the Office of the Secretary bought 2,500 PPE sets at P3,500 per set. Each set is composed of goggles, gloves, shoe covers, coveralls, surgical gowns, face masks, surgical masks and head caps.
The P8.75-million contract was then awarded to Quezon-City based Rebmann Inc., which supposedly bought the PPE sets from local distributors of 3M and TG Medical.
The PPEs purchased in 2015 were intended for the DOH’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (DCPB), which had a higher approved procurement budget of P10 million.
On June 23, 2016, Rebmann Inc. again snagged a P14.49-million deal with the DOH, which records showed bought 3,750 eight-item PPEs at P3,864 per set, a price higher than that in the 2015 contract.
The 2016 purchase order showed that the coveralls, goggles, and surgical masks were imported from China; gloves from Malaysia; face masks from Singapore; head caps from Thailand; and plastic shoe covers as well as surgical gowns from the United States.
The PPEs obtained in 2016 were distributed to school-based health stations through the DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program Management Office (HFEPMO), which had a budget of P15 million.
The documents showed that the procurements in 2015 and 2016 underwent competitive bidding, although Rebmann Inc. was the lone eligible bidder in both occasions.
Both 2015 and 2016 purchase orders were signed by then health undersecretary Vicente Y. Belizario Jr., on behalf of the DOH secretary.
The PPEs purchased by the DBM’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM) headed by Lao through emergency or negotiated procurement under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law had a budget of P2,000 per set based on the DOH’s requirements, PS-DBM said last week.
Asked by the Inquirer if he intentionally wanted to compare PPE purchases made by the Aquino administration with those bought by the Duterte administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lao replied: “Yes, we compared the two administrations because they said we sourced expensive items. So we matched who’s more expensive — them or us,” he said. Opposition Senators Franklin Drilon and Risa Hontiveros, allies of former president Aquino, last week assailed the allegedly overpriced PPEs and testing kits that Lao’s office bought.
“All I can say is that their procurement cost is more than double the procurement cost made by PS-DBM this 2020,” Lao said.
“What puzzles me is that we are being insinuated to have caused the loss of P1-billion government money and being subjected to investigation, whereas the procurements made during the previous administration were double the cost [but were] not being questioned and subjected to investigation,” Lao said.
As far as how supply and demand affected pricing this year amid a pandemic against market conditions four to five years ago, Lao said: “Back then, there were a lot of supplies but few demand, so prices should be low. Now, demand is high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so prices should be high.”
“But comparing both [2015 and 2016] procurement, we bought at cheaper prices in 2020 despite scarcity in supply and [high] demand,” Lao said.
Lao had explained that the medical items had been mostly from overseas suppliers due to a lack of domestic manufacturers and supplies at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Given foreign and domestic transport restrictions at the onset of the pandemic, PPE prices had also shot up amid massive global demand, but Lao had said these already levelled off when supply eventually caught up.
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