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Palace: No ‘overpriced’ pandemic supplies under Duterte admin, maybe under Aquino

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Malacañang on Wednesday denied that the pandemic supplies purchased by the government were overpriced, as it turned tables against the Aquino administration for allegedly buying protective suits in 2015 and 2016 at higher costs.

Speaking at his televised briefing, presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the Duterte administration’s “emergency” purchase of at least P8.6 billion worth of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as face masks and face shields for health workers, was in accordance with procurement laws and other government rules.

“The alleged overpricing was not proven during the Senate inquiry,” he told reporters, referring to the hearings conducted by the upper chamber’s blue ribbon committee on the use of pandemic response funds.

Roque likewise presented documents during his press briefing to show that the administration of Duterte’s predecessor, the late Benigno Aquino III, purchased PPE sets worth P3,000 each — days before stepping down from the office — which he said were costlier than P1,700 worth of suits purchased by officials last year.

He then challenged opposition senators Franklin Drilon and Risa Hontiveros to probe the alleged purchase of PPE sets under the Aquino administration which he was allied with.

“Please explain how your allies bought costlier PPE at the time there was no pandemic. Somebody earned money; not in this administration,” Roque said.

“If the administration allied with Senator Drilon, Senator Hontiveros, bought PPE worth P3,500 each, why would they condemn the Duterte administration which bought the same PPE sets at P1,700?” he added.

Roque also claimed that the questions raised against the government purchases were part of the opposition’s “desperate” move to advance their interests for the May 2022 elections.

“The opposition is just desperate to create an issue. But maybe, they were doing it to avoid another Otso Diretso next year,” he said, referring to the crushing defeat of the opposition’s eight-man senatorial slate in the 2019 midterm polls.

“If politics is not the reason, why are they creating noise over P1,700, but not on P3,500?” the official added.

He also said that the word war between the Executive branch and the Senate over the issue would only end once the elections were over.

Budget and health officials under the Aquino administration, as well as Drilon and Hontiveros, have yet to respond to Roque’s remarks as of posting time.

 

No Michael Yang influence?

Roque, during his briefing, also denied that Duterte’s former economic adviser Michael Yang influenced the bidding process for the purchase of pandemic supplies, as insinuated by some lawmakers.

“No personality was involved [in choosing the supplier of medical equipment]. The basis in choosing it was price and quality,” he said.

“What mattered at that time was who can provide high quality equipment at the cheapest price,” Roque added.

Yang, a Davao-based Chinese businessman, was being linked by some senators to the multi-billion-peso purchase of medical supplies by the Procurement Service of the Budget and Management, then headed by former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao.

During the previous hearing, senators questioned the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., then a six-month-old company with a capital of P625,000.

Yang is linked to the local firm through one of its owners, Singaporean Huang Tzu Yen, and Yang’s two other associates.

Roque also argued that Pharmally’s small capital was a non-issue since it had delivered the PPE ordered by the government.

As early as March 2020, Duterte was authorized by Congress to do emergency procurement to ensure the country would obtain needed supplies like personal protective equipment, test kits, and face masks.

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