Collect P33B ‘parked’ in PITC, senators urge Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order for the return to the national treasury of P33 billion in public funds “parked” at the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), saying this would free up a huge chunk of money for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Since PITC is under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), it is in the realm of executive action to order the immediate return of said amounts,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“And because we are in search of funds to purchase vaccines, then an executive order that mandates the return of these funds to the national treasury is well within the powers of the executive,” he added.
Pangilinan was reacting to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s privilege speech calling on the Senate to compel the small trading company to revert the amount to the national coffers.
Drilon said on Tuesday that the PITC was being used by government agencies to avoid the requirement of returning unspent public funds under the cash-based General Appropriations Act.
An estimated P73.2 billion was needed to inoculate 60 million Filipinos, according to Pangilinan.
‘Easy to accomplish’
Officials earlier estimated that the government would need to vaccinate 60 percent of the population to ensure herd immunity.
“This will be very easy to accomplish. We keep searching for money to fund COVID-19 vaccines, yet here we have P33.4 billion that’s just parked” in PITC, Pangilinan said, adding that the government would no longer need to take out more loans.
As of August, the country’s outstanding debt stood at P9.615 trillion mainly due to the coronavirus crisis.
In his interpellation of Drilon’s speech on Tuesday, Pangilinan confirmed from Drilon that the P33.4 billion was in banks or in money market placements, “appearing as assets of PITC and earning billions [in] interest.”
According to Drilon, the money could have been sleeping with PITC for years, prompting Pangilinan to remark: “In effect, your CEO or whoever is in charge is like a glorified parking attendant rather than a trading expert because of all the money that is being parked.”
As for plans to have PITC undertake the COVID-19 vaccine procurement, Pangilinan said its capacity to deliver results was questionable.
“Why bring that much fund to purchase vaccines into an entity that has failed miserably in delivering in terms of purchasing or utilizing funds in the last 10 years?” he pointed out.
Pangilinan noted that the corporation’s failure to utilize the appropriated P33.4 billion could be also a “gross and inexcusable negligence” on the part of its officials, adding, “I’ll leave that matter to be pondered upon when we go into the committee hearings.”
The PITC was recently tasked with procuring COVID-19 vaccines following successful trials of various drugs being developed by multinational pharmaceutical companies.
During plenary budget deliberations last week, senators criticized the agency for its poor track record as the country’s sole trading company “engaged in exports, trade services and special trading arrangements” to support domestic industries.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said there might be a need to revisit the PITC’s functions as it was turning out to be a “redundant agency,” considering the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) already had its own Procurement Service while other agencies had their own bids and awards committees.
“The issue is this: If the agencies procure items via their own bids and awards committees or the DBM’s Procurement Service, the funds that are not used can be converted into savings,” he said in an ANC interview.
“The President, Senate President, House Speaker and Chief Justice are allowed by the Constitution to realign these to other items within their respective offices. But funds with the PITC become idle and are returned to the treasury,” he said.
Lacson added that the DTI firm could potentially stunt national development since the funds entrusted to it for procurement could not be used and realigned for urgent programs.
“So development is stunted in some ways because funds that should have been available are returned to the Treasury and cannot be realigned for other needs,” he said.
The PITC, according to Lacson, was established via Presidential Decree No. 252 in 1973, and amended through PD 1071, which expanded its mandate to be “one of the drivers of Philippine trade worldwide.”
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