Malacañang stuck to procurement rules when it entered into contracts for the purchase of Covid-19 emergency supplies last year even if President Rodrigo Duterte had the power to ignore those, state auditors told the Senate on Tuesday.
Appearing before a Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Commission on Audit (COA) chief Michael Aguinaldo, former Department of Budget and Management Procurement Service (DBM-PS) chief Christopher Lao, and the Government Procurement Policy Board -Technical Support Office (GPPB-TSO) Executive Director Rowena Candice Ruiz confirmed their offices consulted with each other before the purchase of supplies during the first months of the pandemic last year.
“Sa Bayanihan 1, the President was empowered to do away with (Republic Act) 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) altogether, although the only requirement was dapat ‘yung (it should be) advantageous to the government ‘yung ‘pag-procure (for procurement). So we were actually surprised that DBM and OP (Office of the President), in fairness to them, decided to apply the rules on emergency procurement as defined under RA 9184 para may sistema rin siguro ‘yung pag-procure (so there will be a system for procurement) and ensure accountability as well,” Aguinaldo said.
Senator Francis Tolentino said the consultation prior to the purchases, participated in by COA, was a precaution against lapses in procedure.
“So dapat ‘di na sila ma-flag down (then they should not have been flagged),” Tolentino said, noting that there was a joint circular meant to synchronize the movement with the COA.
RA 11469 or Bayanihan 1, also known as the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act “authorizes the President to adopt and implement measures needed to respond to the crisis brought by Covid-19” as the need arises, in the most expeditious manner, as exemptions from the provisions of RA No. 9184 and other relevant laws.
Goods to be purchased may include personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, masks, goggles, face shields; surgical equipment and supplies; laboratory equipment and its reagents; medical equipment and devices; support and maintenance for laboratory and medical equipment, surgical equipment and supplies; medical supplies, tools, and consumables such as alcohol, sanitizers, tissue, thermometers, hand soap, detergent, sodium hydrochloride, cleaning materials, povidone iodine, common medicines (e.g., paracetamol tablet and suspension, mefenamic acid, vitamins tablet and suspension, hyoscine tablet and suspension, oral rehydration solution, and cetirizine tablet and suspension); testing kits, and such other supplies or equipment as may be determined by the Department of Health (DOH) and other relevant government agencies.
“So in effect nag-iingat din sila (they were also cautious). They are aware of RA 9184, they are aware of the consequences if they make some steps relative to Bayanihan 1,” Tolentino said.
Lao said even while working under pressure to procure the supplies and roll out the pandemic response, his office undertook measures to protect the government’s interests.
“We did not make advance payments, for one,” Lao said, adding that suppliers were required to complete the delivery first, pass inspection, and have the delivery accepted before payment was made, contrary to the usual government practice of allowing partial payments at various stages of a procurement contract.
Lao said they also sought basic documentary requirements such as mayor’s permit and Income Tax Returns, which were “taken at face value” before entering into the supply contract.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa noted that the government was subject to the forces of law of supply and demand when it was acquiring PPE during the initial stages of the pandemic when demand was larger than supplies.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said the purchase of PPE last year for P1,470 to P1,980 each involved a different and more complete set as compared to the more expensive PPE acquired in 2015 and 2016 for around P3,000.
Duque said the pricier 2015 and 2016 purchases did not have face shields and aprons.