Gov’t facility providing radiopharmaceuticals, affordable diagonistic tests a casualty of pork barrel scam
A P57 million state-of-the-art government nuclear facility has fallen casualty to the pork barrel scam.
A Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) laboratory that could supply hospitals with radiopharmaceuticals and cut down the cost of several expensive medical diagnostic tests, is in danger of going to waste, according to state auditors.
Since it opened in December 2012, the facility has been idle because the PNRI’s marketing partner, the Technology Resource Center (TRC) has been in limbo after its top officials were implicated in the scam allegedly perpetrated by Janet Lim Napoles with several lawmakers and government officials.
“The full implementation of the project hit a snag because of the impending abolition of the TRC which has a critical role in the commercialization of the project,” the Commission on Audit (COA) said in its 2014 audit report on the PNRI.
“There is a strong possibility that the technology may be wasted in the absence of a back-up plan on the part of the (PNRI) in case of failure on the part of the TRC,” the state audit agency added.
The first of its kind in the country, PNRI’s generator production facility for the Molybdenum99 (Mo-99)/ Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) took about two years to build for at least P57 million funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) with assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
(The PNRI placed the facility’s value at P69.5 million).
The Tc-99m is the most commonly-used medical radioisotope for the imaging and scanning of internal organs such as the brain, lungs, kidneys, liver and thyroid as well as bone for medical diagnosis.
The country’s 35 hospitals with nuclear medicine centers have to import Tc-99m, which are sold at a much higher price here than in neighboring countries, making medical procedures too costly.
With the PNRI laboratory, Filipino nuclear scientists can supply hospitals the ever increasing demand for Tc-99m and make it possible for patients to pay at least 50 per cent less for hospital diagnostic tests using the Tc-99m.
PNRI director Alumanda Dela Rosa had also said they would make the radiopharmaceutical available to government hospitals at a subsidized cost for charity patients.
But since the TRC, which was supposed to market the PNRI-produced radiopharmaceuticals, was implicated in the pork barrel scam, the PNRI was left struggling to find another partner agency or a private investor to bankroll the facility.
Under the agreement between the PNRI and the TRC signed in September 2012, the TRC was supposed to procure raw materials from abroad and promote, distribute and market the Tc-99m generators with a P5-million seed money while the PNRI mass produced the radiopharmaceuticals.
“The agreement with TRC is facing the risk of not pushing through at all, the likelihood of which is high, owing to the unexpected turn of events that saw the indictment of two of the TRC’s senior officials before the Sandiganbayan in June 2014,” COA said.
The TRC was one of the three state agencies that were allegedly used to channel millions of pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of legislators into ghost livelihood projects of fake NGOs put up by Napoles.
Six TRC officials led by former director general Antonio Ortiz and director-general on-leave Dennis Cunanan were among those charged with graft before the Sandiganbayan.
“Not only that they (project activities) are suspended but there is also a serious plan to abolish the (TRC) per documents/information gathered,” COA added.
Both the PNRI and the TRC are under the DOST.
The P5 million seed money with the TRC could not be released to the PNRI due to questions on finances raised by the pork barrel transactions.
COA said the PNRI could not handle the commercial aspect of its project since that was not within its mandated function.
“As of this writing, no definite/concrete plans were made, so the facility still remained idle and its immediate use is left hanging thus, delaying the immediate attainment of the project’s noble objectives or possible non-attainment of its objectives,” COA said.
“After establishing the production facility for the production of Tc-99m generators costing P 57,174,944.03 in July 2012 or for more than two years already, the main objective of enhancing the quality of life of Filipinos through a more reasonable and affordable price of (radiopharmaceuticals) has not been attained,” it went on.
COA said the PNRI had been talking to the DOST, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Development Corporation (NDC) to find a new partner, and had pitched the facility to potential private investors.