Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has defended the procurement of allegedly “overpriced” face masks and face shields during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catholic faithfuls wear face shields as they queue along Carriedo Street to attend the scheduled Friday mass at Quiapo Church in Manila on June 18, 2021.Photo from Rappler

In a pre-recorded Talk to the People delivered Friday night and aired Saturday morning, Duterte explained that the price of face masks and face shields procured from March to April 2020 “skyrocketed due to the scarcity of the supply and abrupt increase in demand.”

“So, at the time, it’s always the law of supply and demand. If there is a high supply, it’s cheap. If there is a low supply, it’s expensive,” Duterte said partly in Filipino.

He made the remark after several senators, citing the Commission on Audit’s (COA) 2020 audit report, slammed the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service’s (DBM-PS) purchase of about 114.90 million face masks at P27.72 each and 1.317 million face shields at P120 each.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the cost of face masks should have been only about P569.52 million instead of P1.66 billion, and the cost of face shields should have been only P65.89 million instead of P158.13 million.

Drilon also questioned the Department of Health’s (DOH) move to transfer about P42 billion in Covid-19 pandemic response funds to the DBM-PS for the purchase of face masks and face shields.

Duterte, however, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was “careful” in handling the pandemic funds.

He also recalled that he had even instructed Duque to buy medical supplies without going through the bidding process but the latter did not heed his call.

“But in spite of the order not to undergo bidding since it’s pandemic, it’s emergency, nevertheless, Secretary Duque still followed the bidding process. So, he was just being careful,” Duterte said.

DBM officer in charge Tina Rose Marie Canda, when quizzed by Duterte if the DOH made a mistake, said Duque had “no recourse but to transfer the fund” to DBM-PS at the height of the pandemic.

In a Laging Handa briefing on Friday, resigned DBM-PS chief Lloyd Christopher Lao said his office had bought the “cheapest” face masks and face shields during the start of the pandemic.

Lao also clarified that there is no need for a memorandum of agreement for the transfer of funds to purchase Covid-19 supplies that are for “common use.”

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