PPE overprice unproven; Galvez finds allegation ‘callous’ – Roque
MANILA, Philippines — Government officials on Wednesday continued defending the controversial COVID-19 purchases made by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the undercapitalized company that bagged P8.7-billion worth of contracts for these pandemic supplies.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the ongoing Senate investigation had not proven that the personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased by PS-DBM from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. was overpriced.
Pharmally also supplied face masks and COVID-19 test kits, which Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said were also overpriced.
“They can’t prove the overpricing of PPEs because they can’t show that the P1,700 at that time was overpriced,” he said in a press briefing.
Drilon on Friday said Pharmally’s PPEs were priced at P1,910 apiece, not P1,700, which was more than double the market price of P945 at the time, citing the PS-DBM’s own figures. Pharmally’s test kits were P1,720 each, nearly double the P925 sold by other companies.
Roque said the government’s decision to procure from Pharmally was based on the “price and quality” of the items offered by the company during an emergency.
Order for 3M PPEs
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF), and his deputy, Secretary Vince Dizon, backed Roque.
Galvez said the President had ordered three million PPEs in just two to three days, a directive that “shocked” officials of the PS-DBM and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
After China sent a plane-load of donated PPEs, he and PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao asked help from Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian in referring a PPE manufacturer that could deliver three million PPEs quickly.
He said the military sent two C-130 planes and a Navy vessel to China to fetch the initial procurement of 600,000 PPE sets.
“Our objective is to save lives, not to make money. [The accusation of corruption is] very callous. We wanted to save our healthcare workers,” Galvez said.
He said 37 doctors and nurses had already died by then and 10 were in critical condition and intubated.
He said the government needed a “large volume” of pandemic supplies because hospitals were “pleading to us.” The objective was to find a supplier that could deliver on time at a “decent price.”
Not in an emergency
Roque said the undercapitalization of Pharmally, which was incorporated in September 2019, would be a factor under regular procurement processes, not an emergency like the pandemic. This would have been uncovered if a regular bidding were held.
“Despite the fact that their initial paid-up capital was only P625,000, they were able to deliver. Maybe if they weren’t able to deliver, you can complain as to why you awarded [the contract] to a company without resources. But given that all the PPEs that we need to save lives actually arrived and were used, I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said.
Roque challenged both opposition senators Drilon and Risa Hontiveros, to explain why the Aquino administration bought PPEs from the Quezon City-based Rebmann Inc. at a much higher price than Pharmally way before the pandemic.
The first purchase order for 2,500 sets, made on Sept. 28, 2015, cost P3,500 each. The second for 3,500 sets, on Jun. 23, 2016, was priced at P3,864 per set.
Rebmann officers could not be reached for comment.
“If the administration allied to Senator Drilon and Senator Hontiveros bought PPEs, when there was no pandemic yet, at 3,500 per set, why do you besmirch the Duterte administration which in the time of a pandemic bought similar PPEs at P1,700? If politics is not the reason, why do they make a noise about P1,700 compared to P3,500?” Roque said. “Let us not be persuaded by politicians who are politicking this early.”
‘Like a true troll’
In response, Drilon told a radio reporter that Roque was speaking “like a true troll.”
“It is very unmanly and desperate of Roque to even mention my name. It is very malicious and it is a futile attempt to divert attention away from this organized plunder,” he said. “Just let Roque point to the real backer of Lao. Who is the backer of Pharmally?
“When Lao first brought out the price difference between procurements in 2020 and in 2015-2016 in September last year, he insisted that the Duterte administration got a much better deal than the Aquino government.
“Back then [under Aquino], there were a lot of supplies but [little] demand, so prices should be low. Now, demand is high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so prices should be high,” he told the Inquirer then.
“But comparing both [2015 and 2016] procurement, we bought at cheaper prices in 2020 despite scarcity in supply and [high] demand,” Lao said.
‘Apples and oranges’
Commenting on Roque’s remarks, House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin, who was Health Secretary in 2015-2016, told the Inquirer that she was informed that the PPEs then used during the Ebola and Merscov emergency, procured through public bidding and were produced by 3M.
She said the quantity and quality of the 2020 and the 2015 and 2016 were not the same.
“Can’t compare apples and oranges,” she said in a text message.
She said there was only an increase in production of PPEs when Ebola created a shortage and “procurement was done per end-user” and that its use then was “very rare” because the health department was operating only the Regional Institute for Tropical Medicine and was just putting up six to seven molecular laboratories at that time.
“If there was something wrong in it, COA (Commission on Audit) could have flagged it,” Garin said. She said she was not directly involved in the procurement.
She added that comparing the old and new purchases “seems to be a diversion.”
“Best thing to do is to answer the allegations and prove that everything was above board,” Garin said. “What’s important here is for lingering questions to be answered to once and for all put to rest all allegations. Diverting the issue might me misconstrued as avoiding the issue.”
‘People were dying’
Roque justified the “emergency procurement” of PPEs “because people were dying” and that it followed rules under Republic No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, and RA 11469, or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
He said that despite the authorizations, the government did not immediately award supply contracts as the PS-DBM still sought price quotations from “multiple sources” and the P1,700 price per PPE set was the most desirable.
Due to the volume of the order and the short delivery period, other companies found the price “very difficult” to match the government specification for PPEs that include, among others, headgear, footpads, and goggles.
Galvez said the 3 million PPEs that the government planned to purchase eventually swelled to 16 million after the private hospitals approached the government to ask for help in finding supplies. Some private hospitals were buying PPEs at P2,500 set, he said.