Drilon: Ex-DBM exec must face DOH funding probe | Inquirer News

Drilon: Ex-DBM exec must face DOH funding probe

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 05:30 AM August 20, 2021

Former head of DBM’s procurement service Lloyd Christopher Lao—PS-PHILGEPS PHOTO

The resigned head of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), said to be a former aide of then Special Assistant to the President and now Sen. Bong Go, must testify at the ongoing Senate blue ribbon inquiry into the “suspicious” transfer of P42 billion from the Department of Health (DOH), Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Thursday.

Drilon said Lloyd Christopher Lao was not “off the hook” even after he “quietly” resigned as PS-DBM head in June because he “left behind so many questionable transactions” that the Senate “will have to dig into.”


The Senate minority leader also chided Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for “passing the buck” on the fund transfer, as well as the P25 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds that led to the nonpayment of the special risk allowance (SRA) of some 100,000 health workers.

“One of the things I’d like to ask and had no opportunity to ask [during the Wednesday Senate hearing] is: Who is the official who directed the transfer of P42 billion? Is this done as a matter of course, or is this the first time it was done? It is something unusual,” Drilon said.


“A government official would be afraid to do this, unless directed by somebody higher. This is what I want to find out,” he said.

Overpriced masks, shields

On Wednesday, Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda, DBM officer in charge, said it was during Lao’s tenure as director general of the PS-DBM that it purchased face masks and shields which, Drilon said, were “grossly overpriced.”

Canda said she had earlier aired misgivings on the “expensive” China-made face masks and shields and personal protective equipment (PPE).

“I just knew at the time that it was all from China because we had a meeting on it and, if I recall, the executive committee asked … whether the amounts for the face shields, face masks and other PPE would be defensible because some people from the private sector are saying that it’s expensive,” she said. Canda also said Lao had previously been investigated for other allegedly overpriced medical supplies and equipment, which the PS-DBM bought at the onset of the pandemic.

Lao, a lawyer, was named budget undersecretary and PS-DBM officer in charge in January 2020. The office website listed his previous posts, including CEO of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, and undersecretary at the Presidential Management Staff (PMS)-Office of then Special Assistant to the President Go.

Per the PS-DBM website, Lao completed a postgraduate degree and taught at Ateneo de Davao University’s College of Law.

The Inquirer called Lao through the two phone numbers that reporters had earlier used to reach him, to no avail.


Not small money

Drilon said that “if there was overpricing, certainly he (Lao) is responsible.”

“ Just to put it in context, we are not talking of small money [because] from our research, on the face masks alone, we estimate that the overprice is about a billion pesos,” he said.

Drilon wondered why the DOH assigned purchases of up to P42 billion to the PS-DBM for medical supplies when it could have done these directly through its own procurement service.

“In fact, the equipment that they purchased through the PS-DBM are items that the DOH would be fully familiar with, because these are medical supplies. If there is any expertise, it belongs to the DOH, not PS-DBM,” he said.

Drilon also questioned the lack of a memorandum of agreement between the two agencies that would have covered the fund transfer.

“Prudence would have dictated that when you transferred P42 billion, you executed a document. You cannot leave this to the whim and caprice of government officials,” he said.

‘Not my aide’

Drilon said Go should attend the next Senate hearings on the matter, not because he was directly linking Go to Lao’s acts as PS-DBM head, but because of the senator’s “familiarity with the health sector.”

Go chairs the Senate committee on health.

“Sen. Bong Go should assist us in clarifying these issues because he has familiarity with the health sector. Whether or not the senator would attend [the hearings] is a matter that is addressed to our discretion individually,” Drilon said.

Sought for comment, Go denied that Lao was ever his aide.

“I wish to clarify that contrary to claims of some personalities and news outlets, [Lao] of the PS-DBM was never my aide. To call him such is inaccurate,” Go said in a statement.

He said Lao was a “volunteer election lawyer” for President Duterte in the 2016 election and was subsequently appointed to the PMS where he stayed until early 2017.

“Lao did not directly report to me, nor did he ever serve as my aide,” Go said, adding that he was already an elected senator when Lao was named to the PS-DBM.

Go also said he supported the efforts of the Senate blue ribbon committee in investigating how funds were spent in the Philippines’ response to the pandemic.

If Go decides to attend the blue ribbon hearings, there’s an off chance of another “encounter” with Drilon.

No questions

On June 4, 2020, after Go delivered a privilege speech on health workers’ delayed compensation and refused interpellation afterward, Drilon wondered whether not taking questions after privilege speeches was the “new normal.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it was the senators’ prerogative not to entertain questions but added that it was definitely not the new practice.

Go said his willingness to be questioned depended on the issue, and insisted that senators remember they were colleagues and all elected by the people.

“I am not your student and you are not my proctor,” he said.

Last May 20, Drilon and Go clashed over hospital expansion bills after Go accused Drilon of delaying their passage. Go also asked that the debate on the measures be terminated—a practice unheard-of in the Senate.

This debate developed after Drilon raised concerns about Go’s bills that sought the renationalization and expansion of public hospitals, with funding from the national government.

Drilon pointed out that health services had been devolved to local government units under the Local Government Code. —With reports from Ben O. De Vera and Inquirer Research

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TAGS: DBM, Department of Budget and Management, Drilon, Procurement Service, Senate investigation
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