Hontiveros: Fast-track establishment of anti-overpricing body to curb corruption in procurement of test kits, PPEs

“P1.5 billion ang nawawala sa kaban ng bayan dahil sa overpriced procurement. May kumikita ba o nagsasayang lang ba talaga tayo ng pera?”

This is Senator Risa Hontiveros’ bold remark as she continues to push for the formation of an ‘anti-overpicing board’ in a bid to stop corruption in the procurement of essential equipment needed for the country’s COVID-19 response.

The call was made after various legislators reported a loss of at least P 1.5 billion from overspending.

“Masisigurado ng anti-overpricing body na standardized and procured for the best price yung mga pangagailangan natin. We need full enforcement of our laws to prevent corruption and to make sure we are spending right,” she said during the budget hearing of the Department of Health (DOH).

Hontiveros calls on the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as mandated by R.A. 11223, or the Universal Health Care Law.

Hontiveros said the law should be enough to compel the concerned agencies to immediately convene the Independent Price Negotiation Board, an oversight body created through the UHC Law, that can negotiate with suppliers over prices of medical supplies and new technology that healthcare workers need.

“We have mechanisms in our existing laws that are supposed to prevent overpriced procurement from happening. It is not yet clear if these procurement decisions were motivated by corruption or the result of negligence, but clearly, we need to implement safeguards to avoid wasting taxpayers’ money at a time we desperately need every peso,” she said.

She had earlier reported findings that P1- billion was lost to high-cost personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased from foreign suppliers during a domestic price freeze.

Hontiveros also cited claims made by Senator Frank Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson that the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (PS-DBM) had also bought test kits and nuclear acid extractors, which cost the country an excess expenditure of approximately P500 million.

“Hindi dapat binabalewala ang P1.5 billion loss. Malaking bagay yan sa pandemic response natin, lalo na at nakapasok na tayo sa Top 18 sa pinakamaraming kaso ng COVID-19 sa buong mundo,” Hontiveros adds.

Hontiveros then challenged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to verbalize his commitment to protecting the funds the department would receive:

“I am all in for a higher health budget and giving the department what it needs to optimize its operations in light of this health emergency, but we need to address the elephant in the room. There has been much controversy surrounding the DOH and PhilHealth, and the Secretary must commit to fully enforce anti-corruption measures. We will watch closely that the DOH ensures every peso goes to the right place,” she said.

SPECIAL AUDIT OF COVID-19 FUNDS Hontiveros also reiterated her call to fast track Resolution No. 479 which seeks to conduct a special audit of COVID-19 funds. “We need to push through with this investigation immediately. It is becoming crystal clear that there is a leak somewhere. Ngayon na may budget deliberations, mas lalo nating kailangang tingnan kung napunta at pumupunta sa tama ang buwis ng mga tao. It is urgent that we conduct an audit. Kung mukhang may kalokohan at may gustong kumita, pigilan natin,” she said.

“Not only have we been spending big, we’ve also been loaning big. These funds can save many lives if protected and used wisely. Kung ilulubog natin sa utang ang mga Pilipino hanggang sa susunod na mga henerasyon, let’s make sure it’s worth it,” she said.