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D.O.H. savings held by DBM now in ‘billions’

THE Department of Health’s (DOH) “savings” lodged with Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) is already in “billions.”

Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher A. Lao, who heads PS-DBM, disclosed this to BusinessMirror after Health Secretary Francisco Duque confirmed on Monday that they are targeting to use their savings to purchase an additional 50,000 doses of Sinovac on top of the 600,000 doses donated by China.

The Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) disclosed in its recently released Resolution No. 02-2021 that DOH wrote a letter to DBM Secretary and GPPB chairman Wendel Avisado on January 25 requesting the inclusion of Covid-19 vaccines in the list of Common-Use Supplies and Equipment (CSE) and to authorize the Procurement Service (PS-DBM) to utilize actual and potential savings from the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the procurement of vaccines. The GPPB resolution was signed by Avisado and Budget Undersecretary Laura B. Pascua, as well as by several other representatives from different departments.

Sought how much exactly is DOH’s savings with PS-DBM, Lao said he cannot give yet a specific figure but added they are doing the “accounting already for possible use of money for other purposes by DOH.”

“We are continually procuring for DOH with respect to the test kits RT-PCR, PPEs. It’s hard to give a figure, because it’s a running [number], but the savings are big because prices are falling now, for example, of surgical masks; prices of PPEs are declining too, because quarantines have eased and there are more suppliers so our savings have grown,” Lao explained in a phone interview, speaking partly in Filipino.

It is also not yet clear how much of its total savings in the PS-DBM will the DOH be tapping for the vaccine purchase.

DOH’s request to tap its unused funds for vaccine purchase came despite the assurance from the government, including the Department of Finance (DOF) that the country has sufficient funds for the procurement of vaccines.

Asked why the DOH needs to tap these savings lodged with PS-DBM for vaccine procurement despite the government’s earlier assurances on sufficiency of funds, Lao said: “We are trying to use as many sources of fund. The more sources of fund, the more we can procure so it should not be limited [so that] the more options we have, the better.”

Responding to the same question, DOF Undersecretary Mark Joven, who heads the department’s International Finance Group, said in a message to BusinessMirror: “I think it is the DOH’s prerogative.”

Of the P82.5-billion budget required to provide vaccines for majority of the population, the amount of P2.5 billion forms part of the budget of the DOH under the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), while P10 billion will come from the funds allocated for the Covid-19 vaccination program under Republic Act (RA) No. 11494 or the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2).

The DOF earlier said the remaining P70 billion will be sourced from loans provided by multilateral lenders, the Philippines’s bilateral partners and/or the domestic market. Dominguez has also said that around P62.5 billion of this amount has already been “lined up.”

For its part, GPPB has already recommended that DOH’s request on the reallocation of savings be endorsed to DBM.

The BusinessMirror tried to reach Avisado for comment but he did not yet respond, as of press time.

The GPPB has also sought to clarify from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Covid-19 Vaccine Cluster on the intended role of PS-DBM in the implementation of the National Vaccination Plan, as this may determine whether the vaccines should be included in the list of CSE following DOH’s request.

Common-Use Supplies refers to those supplies, materials, and equipment included in the price list of the PS which are necessary in the transaction of the official business of the procuring entity and consumed in its day-to-day operations.

To recall, PS-DBM expressed reservations on DOH’s request to include the vaccines in the list of CSEs to be procured by PS-DBM, considering the nature and definition of CSE items, as well as its lack of appropriate expertise in the handling, storage, delivery and distribution of vaccines.

In particular, it also noted existing restrictions on the Emergency Use Authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration where pharmaceutical companies are allowed to sell Covid-19 vaccines only to DOH.

GPPB-TSO Executive Director V Rowena Candice Ruiz earlier told the BusinessMirror they have yet to get a response from IATF-EID and the Covid-19 Vaccine Cluster as of last Friday.

Ruiz has also expressed concern that declaring Covid-19 vaccines as CSE may hinder LGU procurement as this may entail a “longer process,” in contrast to the tripartite agreement where LGUs directly purchase vaccine from the pharmaceutical company.

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