Lacson flags overpriced medical supplies for DOH
MANILA, Philippines — Billions of pesos in taxpayer money may have lined the pockets of corrupt public officials behind the procurement of allegedly overpriced medical supplies for the Department of Health (DOH), Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Sunday.
Lacson, who had initiated Senate inquiries into graft and corruption, said the overpriced supplies included personal protective equipment (PPE) that the DOH had purchased for health workers caring for COVID-19 patients.
In a text message to the Inquirer, however, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the supplies were purchased not by the DOH but by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado declined to comment, but referred the Inquirer to Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao, executive director of the Procurement Service.
As of press time on Sunday night, however, Lao had yet to respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also declined to comment on Lacson’s claim, as it was a matter for the budget department.
Citing information provided by a source he did not name, Lacson said the questionable supplies also included the swabbing system used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for suspected new coronavirus carriers.
Earlier, Sen. Grace Poe disclosed that 1 million sets of PPE that the DOH bought were “overpriced” by as much as P1.4 billion, an allegation that Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire denied.
“Initial figures that we obtained indicate grossly overpriced government-purchased health products like nucleic acid extractor and swabbing system for PCR-based tests, as well as for PPE,” Lacson told the Inquirer.
“The difference runs to hundreds of millions of pesos, if not billions [of pesos] in public funds—if we consider the volume—compared to those bought by private foundations and organizations,” he said.
According to Lacson, the DOH spent $32 for each unit of a swabbing system, which may be bought for $12 at cost from China, or a whopping difference of about 170 percent.
He said his source told him that the private-sector-led Project ARK (antibody rapid test kits) was able to buy the Sansure swabbing system for $18 to $20.
He claimed that the price of the PPE that the DOH had bought was twice as that of the same hazard gear purchased by private groups.
Lacson said he was still verifying if the brands and the sources of the medical supplies bought by the private groups were the same as those of the DOH supplies and if these were of the same quality.
“That said, I think it is hard to imagine that credible private groups would resort to purchasing and using low-quality health products in performing their [good] Samaritan work,” he said.
He said he would bring up the matter with Duque during the hearing of the Senate committee of the whole on Tuesday with members of President Duterte’s Cabinet.
“I want to be clarified on that. This is something that’s difficult to forgive,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
“While [the country is in] a crisis, someone is trying to take advantage of the opportunity for selfish [reasons] when you should seize the opportunity to help the country during a crisis,” he added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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