Who’s profiting from imported PPE? – Pangilinan | Inquirer News
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Who’s profiting from imported PPE? – Pangilinan

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Saturday scored the “unscrupulous people” who were undermining local industries in the acquisition of medical equipment and supplies that were in high demand and favoring imports while the country was in its worst recession in decades.

“It seems unscrupulous people are using the Procurement Service (of the Department of Budget and Management, or PS-DBM) to steal billions of people’s money set aside for PPE (personal protective equipment),” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, following an Inquirer report on the grievances aired by the Confederation of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (CPMP).

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Chinese imports

“We could not help but ask: who is profiting from imported and overpriced PPEs?” he said after the group complained that the government was favoring imports from China and other countries although it was the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that asked them to produce the medical safety products.

CPMP, composed of five manufacturers of garments and electronics, responded to the appeal of the DTI to retool their production lines amid the public health emergency.

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But after investing in new equipment, the government ignored them and stepped up importation of medical products and supplies, particularly PPE.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson lamented that there were people taking advantage of the pandemic to make a profit without regard for the suffering of others.

“Some people are definitely making a killing out of the misery brought upon our people by the coronavirus, coming as it does in many forms we cannot even imagine,” Lacson said, noting the irregularities that have emerged during the pandemic.

Locals preferred

These include the alleged abuse of Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s advanced payments system, the planned purchase of overpriced information technology equipment and now, the questionable purchases of PPE.

Reacting to CPMP’s complaint, the Department of Health disowned responsibility for the importation of medical equipment and supplies and said its role was limited to providing technical specifications, and it was the PS-DBM that facilitates the procurement of PPE and other items.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado admitted on Saturday that “before, we relied on imports since there were a few local manufacturers only who cannot provide enough supply … but the President prefers local manufacturers now that there are many [of them] already.’

PS-DBM website check

But a check with PS-DBM’s website before it was shut down on Saturday showed that the government, as of Aug. 22, was still looking for three-ply surgical masks, protective safety goggles, disposable shoe covers, N95 masks, KN95 face masks, thermoguns, as well as detergent bars and liquid hand soaps.

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A post on ps-philgeps.gov.ph website showed that the government was in need of medical/protective nonsterile coveralls, direct splash protection face shields, surgical gowns, polyethylene aprons, disposable head covers, nitrile gloves, as well as ethyl alcohol.

The post, however, was taken down around 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The latest Philippine Statistics Authority data showed that in June, the import value of PPE and medical supplies jumped 124.1 percent year-on-year to $31.2 million, although there was no information on what countries these came from.

In May, imported values of PPE and other medical items climbed by 65 percent year-on-year to $32 million, following a 54.1-percent increase in April.

Bayanihan 2 provision

Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the finance committee, said the government should give preference to locally made PPE, face shields, face masks, shoe covers and similar equipment once the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) becomes law.

Bayanihan 2 provides P3 billion for the purchase of these items to be provided to local health workers and barangay officials, and states that “preference shall be given to products manufactured, produced, or made in the Philippines.”

Urgent

“The provision is even more urgent now with this revelation from local producers. Going forward, I hope our government agencies can set the example by patronizing local products as much as possible, without sacrificing cost and quality concerns, of course,” Angara said in a text message.

He also said in a radio interview that this provision on preference for local PPE did not provide a penalty for noncompliance, but Congress could still hold officials to account by using its oversight powers to scrutinize the procurement of PPE.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Francis Pangilinan, PPEs
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