While hurting from the loss of thousands of workers displaced during the coronavirus crisis last year, repurposed garments and shoes companies are worried they may not be paid for the personal protective equipment procured by the government in 2020.
The Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP) on Thursday said the government still owed the industry as much as P660 million for unpaid PPE procured in November and December 2020.
Adding to this is a concern that garments and shoes factories that were repurposed to manufacture critical items like PPEs, face masks, and face shields may not stand competition from the same imported, critical products, the group said.
“That is why we support the pending (pandemic) bills and we agreed to represent our ranks in the Senate hearing so we could save workers and save companies,” said CONWEP executive director Maritess Agoncillo.
The Department of Health (DOH) clarified that it has never favored any company, not even from China, in the purchase of PPEs.
“The DOH does not, and has never, favored any particular source for PPEs,” a statement read by Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
“In fact, it is the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) which serves as the procuring arm of the DOH for PPEs and other commodities for the pandemic -- the DOH only provides the technical specifications of the PPEs and equipment that it needs,” Vergeire said.
Nevertheless, she said the DOH recognizes the impact of the pandemic on the garments industry, hence last year the DOH and the DTI tapped garment industry associations and private firms through the CONWEP for the local production of PPEs to help boost the industry.
“We are also pursuing further collaboration with DTI and CONWEP for additional orders of locally made PPEs,” she said.
During the recent Senate hearing, CONWEP requested Congress to prioritize the pending bills filed in mid-2020, which aims to strengthen the rules of engagement in supporting the development of local PPE industry in the country. Four bills were filed in the Senate and two versions of the same were filed in the lower house.
From 25,400 workers displaced in 2020, 3,500 workers from three repurposed companies were furloughed. The industry managed to retain 7,500 workers.
CONWEP was anxious that investments put in by seven repurposed companies may be put to naught. Combined investments to produce critical medical protective products has reached $35 million (P1.75 billion), according to the Coalition of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (CPMP).
Agoncillo said the group has no knowledge of how many PPEs were imported by the government but the CPMP has delivered part of the government requirement.
“Factories that repurposed as early as May/June 2020 were able to participate in the series of government procurement process held around last quarter of 2020. What we know is that we still have excess capacities after the contract awards from the government. CPMP members were able to supply a “portion” of the government procurement, and for this we are grateful,” she said.
CPMP companies are now looking for opportunities to export excess capacity to break even or at least minimize losses.
Feedback from the Senate inquiry showed that local PPE manufacturers were awarded about 14 percent of the latest PPE procurement of P4.8 billion. The balance was given to foreign suppliers, which came mostly from China.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez maintained the government bidding process, backed by Republic Act 1984 or the Government Procurement Act, is above board and follows the guidelines of the bidding procedure to the letter.
“The repurpose project is a DTI-BOI project and we’re really relieved that many companies have answered out call to expand local production of masks and start the production of PPEs and face shields. We hope to amend the law and that it should give preference to locally-made products, especially critical products,” he said.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan had lashed out at the government’s decision to procure foreign-made PPEs rather than the ones made in the Philippines that have passed every single test required.
A report said that the DOH “favored PPEs, made in China and other countries,” despite local manufacturers mass-producing the said garments that are much needed in the medical field against the coronavirus disease.
Pangilinan argued that Filipino manufacturers have already produced high-quality and cheaper PPEs but, as he relayed the statements of the CPMP, the government still favored imported protective equipment.
He added that these foreign-made PPEs weren’t tested, while those made in the Philippines had to undergo a slew of procedures before getting approval from the government.
The opposition senator urged the government to procure PPEs made locally to make sure that health workers are well-equipped to combat COVID-19 while also supporting the efforts of the more than 7,000 workers of CPMP and the around 4,000 individuals who will also benefit from the manufacturing business.
Pangilinan has already filed Senate Bill 1759 to support the local production of PPEs and other medical supplies through the use of tax exemptions but this won’t work if the government still favors the importation of PPEs, he said.