To address the “systemic corruption” in the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), Senator Imee Marcos on Thursday filed separate measures for their abolition.
Meanwhile, a witness will soon reveal information on the alleged syndicate behind Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., the company involved in the government’s procurement of overpriced COVID-19 pandemic supplies through PS-DBM, Senator Panfilo Lacson said.
Also, the Department of Justice on Thursday revealed that the tripartite agreement between the DOJ, Commission on Audit, and the Office of the Ombudsman has been signed that would authorize the deployment of prosecutors and state auditors to government agencies prone to corruption.
In a statement, the DOJ stressed that under the memorandum of agreement, DOJ prosecutors and COA auditors will be deputized as resident Ombudsmen in graft-prone agencies.
In Senate Bill 2388, Marcos stressed the PS-DBM “has become a fertile breeding ground of graft and corruption” and as such should be abolished, as it has outlived its functions in the national government.
In SB 2389, the senator said the PITC has been weakened with the passage of Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act passed in 2002, which strengthens the procurement service of national government agencies.
Marcos said the 1987 Constitution and the passage of RA 9184 has made the mandate of PS-DBM “archaic and irrelevant.”
Regarding PITC, Marcos said the agency was originally crafted as a mechanism to formalize trade with planned economies through government-to-government procurement.
“However, as of today, only two centrally-planned economies are in existence, which are Cuba and North Korea,” she related.
The investigation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is looking into the Department of Health’s transfer of P42 billion to the PS-DBM to buy face masks and face shields from different suppliers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Pharmally bagged billions of pesos worth of government deals to procure COVID-19-related medical supplies for health workers.
“Apparently, there is really a syndicate involved and you will be surprised. We are working on something that would further open up this case on Pharmally,” said Lacson.
The committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon is set to resume today its fifth hearing on the issues.
During the resumption of hearing, Lacson said he will present a timeline of events, starting the day when Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao, who has since resigned, was appointed as chief of PS-DBM.
He said this will support Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s claim about a “premeditated plunder.”
While they are yet to talk to the witness, Lacson noted he already manifested his intention to fully cooperate with them.
He is confident that officials other than those from the PS-DBM and the Department of Health (DOH) might be linked to these anomalies once the witness testifies before the Senate blue ribbon committee.
He said officials from other government agencies might be tagged in the irregularities involving the misuse of DOH Covid-19 response funds.
“We are just waiting for some developments, and I hope this can open up a whole lot of information,” said Lacson.
He hopes this connection would eventually lead to the “syndicate” behind the government deals being questioned before the Senate.
“So, I just hope that the chair of the Blue Ribbon committee and my colleagues will still continue with this investigation,” added Lacson.
In addition to its mandate being affected by changes in national policies and legislation, Marcos said the PS-DBM have dealt with issues regarding the exercise of its mandate in previous years.
In particular, she cited the recent controversies surrounding the Department of Health’s transfer of P42 billion to the PS-DBM for the procurement of face shields, face masks, personal protective equipment, and other pandemic-related purchases.
In lieu of the abolition of the PS-DBM, her bill provides that the respective departments, agencies, Government Owned and/or Controlled Corporations (GOCCs), State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), and Local Government Units (LGUs) shall undertake the procurement of common-use supplies, materials and equipment.
The Philippines has also moved away from government-to-government trade, as exemplified by the passage of Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law on February 14, 2019, among others.
Like the PS-DBM, the senator noted issues hounding the PITC such as the P11.02 billion funds transferred by various government agencies from 2014 to 2020 that remained unutilized as of December last year.
“There are reports of source agencies using the interest of money transferred to the PITC to generate savings, which are used by the source agency to fund bonuses, among others,” she said.
DOJ prosecutors and COA auditors deputized to act as resident ombudsman shall act on complaints and reports against officials and employees of host government agencies, serve as watchdogs and implementers of anti-corruption programs, and monitor compliance with existing anti-graft laws and regulations.
“The MOA synergizes the investigatory powers of the Ombudsman, DOJ, and COA in the implementation of anti-corruption measures, thus aiding the Ombudsman and the COA in carrying out their respective mandates while also serving as a mechanism for the DOJ to attain the objectives of the Task Force Against Corruption,” the Justice statement said.
“The Ombudsman, COA, and DOJ shall jointly enter into agreements with partner agencies regarding the terms of deployment of the resident ombudsmen, which is expected to start rolling this month,” it added.
The tripartite agreement came amid allegations of irregularities in the Department of Health’s utilization of COVID-19 funds following “deficiencies” flagged by the COA.
But President Rodrigo Duterte said the emergency procurement of various medical supplies followed existing laws and guidelines.