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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Ex-DBM exec summoned over face-mask purchases

Former Budget and Management Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao was summoned by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to attend its probe into the purchase of allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields.

Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, has signed a Subpoena Ad Testificandum, approved by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, requiring the attendance of Lao when the committee resumes its hearing on August 25.

Lao, who resigned from the DBM last June, was head of the Procurement Service of the DBM at the time when bulk purchases of masks and face shields were procured by the government due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“He will be asked to explain the circumstances of such procurement. It is important that he appears because there are so many questions that need answers, “ Gordon said.

Gordon said Lao was previously investigated over procurement of medical supplies and equipment.

In a press briefing, Lao said he is willing to attend the hearing next week “to shed light on the matter”, adding that the most appropriate avenue is the Blue Ribbon Committee.

“Mr. Lao is still in the Philippines, or at least, has not left the country, as certified by the Bureau of Immigration. This is a good sign that can only mean to indicate that he is not fleeing and can help us in our investigation in bringing light to the seemingly murky processes of government procurement,”  Gordon said.

A subpoena ad testificandum compels the person so summoned to appear before it to answer questions regarding the matter being heard and discussed. Refusal or failure to appear can be subject to a contempt citation, which the Committee of the Senate has previously, and on occasion, imposed.

In order to ensure that the subpoena is served, the Blue Ribbon sought the help of the PNP and NBI.

In the first hearing, Senator  Imee Marcos has pressed for an explanation from the DOH on the “overpriced” face  masks and face shields procured by the  agency.

Marcos  cited Commission on Audit (COA) report that stated that the DDBM-PS had bought  face masks at P27.22 each and face shields  at P120 each.

“It appears  like the DBM-PS has specialized on this that’s why they required these very expensive items. Even if we say that the supply was tight at that point, these items were still overpriced,” said Marcos. 

Gordon said  he was “astounded” by the reported prices of face shields and face masks.

Gordon, also chairperson of the Philippine Red Cross, said they bought  their masks at below P5 and face shields at P15 each.

From the very beginning of their procurement, he related they bought face mask and face shield for PRC at very low price.

He rejected the rationale given by DBM-PS of limited supply for the high prices.

Marcos also said  she was also baffled with  the sudden transfer of the DOH of the P42.4 billion worth of procurement to the DBM-PS. She asked if the DOH is not capable of holding several procurement biddings.

She said the DOH has P42.4 billion for the procurement of face mask and face shield.

“Why did the DOH told COA they couldn’t “buy” these back from DBM-PS because they’re expensive,” asked Marcos. 

“That’s the DOH, why the need to,still buy?” she asked.

“And then the COA was saying they distributed them to the local government units. But the governors  and mayors said these were being sold to them by DOH. They can’t buy them since they’re expensive. 

“So they can’t liquidate this  P42.4 billion because it’s in the stockroom of DOH and DBM-PS- the face mask. And the LGUs and hospitals refused to  buy them,”  Marcos said.

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