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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Senators chide DTI chief: You lured PHL factories to produce PPEs, but allowed Pharmally to edge them out

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SENATORS have chastised Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez for allegedly failing to protect local manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPEs) that he had prodded to ramp up production at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Lopez came under fire as he faced senators at Wednesday’s hearing of a Senate Finance subcommittee on the DTI’s P23.7-billion  proposed 2022 budget.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon took the occasion to rebuke Lopez for encouraging local manufacturers like EMS Components to retrofit  their operations – with some spending millions for such — in order to produce PPEs on the expectation the government will buy huge volumes of the products, which were then in short supply worldwide as most countries raced to deal with the spreading contagion.

However, as details of the expected bulk purchases have been revealed in ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon hearings, the government bought only a relatively scant amount from the local garments and other manufacturers lured by DTI to step up production, causing them to lose millions and forcing them to shed thousands of jobs.

Drilon added that Lopez should have championed the local factories’ cause with the other government agencies like the Department of Health (DOH) and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS DBM), the controversial unit to which Health Secretary Francisco Duque III transferred P42-billion in DOH pandemic funds to buy from local manufacturers. 

For his part, Lopez however claimed he helped introduce local manufacturers to the Department of Health and other government agencies, as well as private hospitals, among other potential buyers.

Pharmally, a startup trading firm with paid-up capital of only P625,000, bagged some P11 billion in negotiated contracts awarded by PS-DBM  under its controversial former head,   then-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao.

The Senate Minority Leader surmised that powerful forces may have prevented Lopez from asserting his mandate on behalf of the local manufacturers, but Drilon voiced hope next time the Trade Secretary will stand up for local traders.

“We expected you, Mr. Secretary to stand for our local manufacturers and I must be candid with you,” said Drilon, adding: “You did not. You allowed these crooks to have their way.”

At the same time, Senator Nancy Binay noted the irony of DTI’s failure to stand up for local manufacturers, while now having to help them export their products because the government did not buy from them.

Buy Local                     

For his part, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara likened it to “a comedy,” noting that instead of buying the locally produced face masks and shields, the government is encouraging them to export their products.

Angara, Finance Committee chairman, said he will introduce an explicit mandate in the 2022 budget that requires government agencies to “buy local” at every chance possible, even though this is the spirit of the procurement law, as well as of Bayanihan 1 and 2, which Congress rushed to give the Executive leeway in responding to the pandemic. 

Lao had repeatedly invoked the Bayanihan laws as some carte blanche to pick firms like Pharmally, which he claimed was able to deliver badly needed pandemic items while the locals could not meet production deadlines. That claim was shattered by Sen. Risa Hontiveros in Blue Ribbon hearings.

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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