Ex-DBM Usec Lao denies working for Bong Go; solon shows him letter he signed as SAP’s Usec
MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker contested the claim of Procurement Service executive director Christopher Lloyd Lao that he never reported directly for Senator Bong Go after showing him a letter in which he signed as undersecretary of the Special Assistant to the President (SAP).
During the hearing of the House committee on public accounts on the Commission on Audit (COA) reports about the Department of Health’s pandemic funds, Lao insisted that he was an undersecretary of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) — a position recommended to him after his application to join the housing sector was denied.
However, committee chairperson and Probinsyano Ako Rep. Jose Singson showed him a letter wherein he signed as undersecretary of the SAP — Go’s position before his election as senator in 2019. Singson was referring to the letter sent by Lao to Philippine Navy officials at the height of the frigate deal issue in 2018.
“You signed your name (as) undersecretary, Office of the Special Assistant to the President. And who was the Special Assistant to the President referred to here?” Singson asked.
“Secretary Bong Go during that time Mr. Chair,” Lao confirmed.
When asked further if he reported to Go directly, Lao insisted that his office, PMS, is one of several offices supervised by Go.
“Basically you reported directly to the Special Assistant to the President?” Singson asked again.
“We report directly to the Presidential Management Staff under Undersecretary (Ferdinand) Cui, then he consolidates it and reports, submits a summary, to the Office of the Special Assistant to the President,” he claimed.
But Singson stressed that Lao could have signed it as undersecretary of PMS, yet he chose to prioritize first the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.
“Well specifically it says ‘Office of the Special Assistant to the President.’ You could’ve signed ‘Undersecretary, Presidential Management Staff.’ Under your name says ‘Office of the Special Assistant to the President,’” Singson said.
“Yes Mr. Chair, because we are under them, that’s why we have the Presidential Management Staff as part of my (label),” Lao noted.
According to Singson, the reason as to why he questioned Lao about his previous stints in government was because there is a need to identify his background due to his involvement with high-level transactions at the PS-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
Lao, who admitted joining the national government after supporting President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign, was appointed head of the PS-DBM in January 2020 but resigned six months after.
He is currently in hot water after COA’s audit report on DOH for 2020 showed that P67.32 of the agency’s COVID-19 funds contained deficiencies, which led to missed opportunities amid the pandemic.
Part of COA’s report contained allegations that P42 billion of the transactions were irregular, including the purchase of COVID-19 protective equipment which was done by PS-DBM.
“I just made mention of these for the information of everybody, as I said because it implies you (Lao) were involved in sensitive discussions on certain matters, and I think this borders on national security as well,” Singson said.
“You were high up there. And now we’re talking about the P42 billion that the DOH transferred to the DBM-PS, of which again, somehow you’re a principal figure in the disposition of those funds. Again, an indication of very high level of trust on you by whomever you reported to or higher-ups,” he added.
During a Senate hearing on the same issue, the blue ribbon committee noted that the PS-DBM then under Lao purchased face masks at P27 per piece and face shields at P120 per piece during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In contrast, committee chair Senator Richard Gordon — who also heads the Philippine National Red Cross — revealed that they purchased face masks worth P5 per piece and face shields at P15 per piece during the time when PS-DBM made their own procurements.
Prior to this, Go had already denied assertions from critics that Lao used to work for him, with the incumbent senator saying that Lao was never his aide.
“I already assumed my post in July 2019 as an elected Senator when Lao was designated to head the PS-DBM in August 2019,” Go clarified further.
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