Senator questions ‘overpriced’ face masks, shields bought by DOH

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon questioned the exorbitantly priced face masks and face shields procured by the Department of Health (DOH) through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

Drilon also raised red flags on the transfer of about P42 billion of COVID-19 funds by the DOH to PS-DBM, saying the practice is “susceptible to corruption.”

“These transfers raise red flags as these are unaccounted or unliquidated transfers. These are most susceptible to corruption as they easily become invisible,” Drilon said during the Blue Ribbon hearing on the COA’s findings on the DOH COVID-19 funds.

“Kasama po ba sa P42 bilyon yung pinambili ng face masks na ayon sa COA ay binili sa halagang P27.22 kada piraso at face shields na nagkakahalaga ng P120 kada piraso. Hindi po ba masyadong mahal ang pagkakabili rito?” he asked.

Sino po ba ang nag-utos sa DOH na ipasa ang P42 billion sa PS-DBM? Why is there no MOAs? Ito po ba ay nagastos na? Ilan po ba ang nabiling PPE, test kits at ventilators? Sino po ba ang naging supplier?”

The P42 billion that was transferred to PS-DBM comprised the biggest chunk of the mismanaged P67 billion DOH COVID-19 funds, which the COA found “were not supported with complete documentary requirements contrary to law and regulations, and casted doubts on the validity, regularity and propriety of transactions.”

“It is alarming that out of the P77 billion COVID-19 budget of the DOH, the COA has found deficiencies in the management of P67 billion,” Drilon said.

Drilon also lamented how the DOH underspent billions of pesos that could have bolstered the government’s response to the pandemic.

“It appears to me that the DOH tried to mask its huge unobligation rate and its inefficiency by transferring P42 billion to PS-DBM. In effect, this fund transfer minimized, on paper, the DOH’s underspending of COVID-19 funds.

Aside from the unobligated allotment of P11.89 billion flagged by COA, Drilon pointed out that there are still around P12 billion from the P42 billion that the DOH “parked” in PS-DBM remained unutilized.

Hence, the DOH underspent 31.17 percent, equivalent to P24 billion, of its P77 billion COVID-19 funds, Drilon emphasized.

“Is it criminal to underspend in the face of a pandemic? Ilan po ba ang mabibiling oxygen tank sa halagang P24 bilyon? Ilang frontliners po ba ang mabibigyan ng umento sa kanilang special risk allowance? Ilang PPEs at test kits po ba ang mabibili natin sa P24 bilyon?” Drilon said.

The senator noted that the Department of Budget and Management itself has responded to the slow obligation and disbursement of the DOH with budget cuts, calling out the agency for its dismal spending in previous years.

Drilon also reminded the DOH and the PS-DBM that the pandemic is not an excuse to disregard procurement laws and transparency in the use of public funds.