7 senators urge COA to audit administration spending on COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros and six other senators are asking the Commission of Audit (COA) to scrutinize the Duterte administration’s spending on its COVID-19 response, including the purchase of allegedly overpriced medical supplies.
“The COVID-19 crisis should not be used to line one’s pocket,” Hontiveros said on Wednesday after filing Senate Resolution No. 479, which sought a special audit of government expenses, loans and donations made under Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
The law granted government officials comprehensive powers to realign and allocate billions of taxpayer money to respond to the global pandemic.
Malacañang officials had yet to respond when sought for comment on the resolution that was also signed by Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Leila de Lima, Ralph Recto, Panfilo Lacson and Sonny Angara.
As COVID-19 cases surged, the government had to expedite the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), laboratory equipment and medical supplies, among other commodities and facilities, for the public without bidding.
But some deals have raised questions of possible overpricing of the procured items, the senators pointed out.
They cited the purchase of automated nucleic acid extractors for P4 million against the private sector’s P1.75 million; the purchase of PPE sets for P1,800 against the market price of P400 to P1,000, and the importation of expensive RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test kits from China and South Korea while cheap Philippine-made tests were “gathering dust in laboratories.’’
The senators said the purchase of the allegedly overpriced PPE by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management and the Philippine International Trading Corp. was “egregious’’ given that health workers have fallen ill from lack of adequate protective gear.
The senators urged the COA to release its findings before Congress deliberates on the 2021 national budget.
“This health crisis should not allow us to relax our accountability measures. The people should be able to trust the government that no one is lining their pockets with taxpayer money,” Hontiveros said.
As of June 30, the government had released P374.89 billion to provide cash aid to millions of low-income families isolated by monthslong lockdown, purchase medical equipment and bankroll other projects as spelled out in the Bayanihan law.
A bulk of the amount — P200.98 billion — went to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which handled the distribution of the subsidy to poor families.
On top of loans and grants, the World Health Organization said some P6.5 billion in donations had been turned over to the Philippines to help cushion the impact of the health crisis on the economy and public health, the senators said.
As of July 1, the Philippines had secured $7.76 billion (over P386 billion) in foreign borrowings, loans, and grant assistance to fight the pandemic, with two-thirds of the proceeds already injected into the budget, according to the Department of Finance.
This included $7.63 billion in budgetary support financing from the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, Washington-based World Bank, Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Agence Française de Développement, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and US dollar-denominated global bonds.
In addition, a total of $126.36 million in grant and loan financing has been provided for various projects of agencies involved in the COVID-19 response.
—With a report from Inquirer Research
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