Anakalusugan Rep. Mikee Romero on Wednesday turned the tables on Sen. Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel, saying that her accusations of “overpricing” against the Department of Budget and Management for the purchase of personal protective equipment are baseless and a mere “smokescreen” to hide overpricing during the previous administration.
Hontiveros-Baraquel made the accusation after the DBM issued a statement saying the Aquino administration purchased PPE sets in 2015 and 2016 at prices double the present market cost.
Records of the DBM Procurement Service made available by Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, indicate that the government had awarded two supply contracts for eight-piece PPEs at P3,500 per set on September 28, 2015 and another P3,864 per set on June 23, 2016.
Lao noted that the previous administration bought the expensive PPEs although there was no health emergency at the time at a price more than double than of the Duterte administration’s acquisition cost of P1,400 to 1,500 per set.
In a statement, Defensor said he suspects that Hontiveros-Baraquel’s’ motivation for “making baseless accusations” against DBM is not purely for altruistic reasons.
“I think the ‘Yellows’ (followers of former Presidents Cory and Benigno Simeon III) are trying to embarrass the Duterte administration to keep the opposition’s own shortcomings in flagging anomalous transactions during the term of former President BS Aquino,” Defensor said.
Defensor said that during the Aquino administration, the Department of Health purchased PPEs from Rebmann, Inc. at a much higher price of P3,500 per set in September 2015. This was followed by another purchase in 2016 of the same 8-piece PPE set at a much higher price of P3,864 per set. These prices are higher by at least 97 percent and 118 percent, respectively, compared to the purchase price of similar PPE sets bought by DBM in the middle of a pandemic at an average price of P1,773.51 per set.
“Senator Hontiveros-Baraquel questions the alleged P200 overprice without proof, but she’s tight-lipped when her colleagues in the former administration bought PPEs at twice today’s prices,” Defensor said.
Defensor also belied the senator’s claim that government lost P1 billion in taxpayer money in purchasing PPEs from Chinese companies.
“Claims of overpricing are untrue. At the time of DBM’s questioned purchases between March and May this year, the Philippines and the whole world were in panic mode. Each country was scrambling for PPEs and facemasks and were fighting over limited supply. Even first world countries like the United States and Great Britain didn’t have enough protective gear for their frontliners,” he added.
Hontiveros earlier said the Chinese PPEs were at least P200 more expensive than the average estimated cost of PPE by the Philippine General Hospital, which pegged the price at P1,200 to P1,500.
But Defensor argued that there was nothing wrong in purchasing more expensive PPEs during the height of the pandemic.
“As the contagion spread and our frontliners were falling ill or dying due to lack of protection, government had to think and act fast.”
“It’s no secret that between March and May 2020 there was extremely high demand for PPEs. As the epicenter of COVID-19 at that time, China itself was prioritizing its needs over other countries. Following the law of supply and demand, it was expected that prices of protective gear would go through the roof. Since it was a seller’s market, government had no choice but to bite the bullet,” he said.
Defensor agreed with the DBM that the Philippines was actually lucky to have secured the PPE supplies considering the circumstances at that time.
Lao, meanwhile, said that: “What puzzles me is that we are being insinuated to have caused the loss of P1 billion government money and being subjected to investigation, whereas the procurements made during the previous administration were double the cost, [but] is not being questioned and subjected to investigation.”
Last week, Lao said that the government did not lose a single centavo from the acquisition of PPEs under Duterte’s watch.
Instead, Lao said the government saved some P800 million in taxpayers money after the PS-DBM decided to buy the PPE sets directly from foreign manufacturers and accredited distributors in China.