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Senators to seek NBI help to find DOH suppliers

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THE Senate will seek the help of the Justice Department, specifically the National Bureau of Investigation, to track down persons behind the undercapitalized contractor that bagged P8.7-billion in questioned personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts at the height of the pandemic even as Blue Ribbon probers are set to wrap up their inquiry soon, said Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon.

Drilon disclosed in an interview with DWIZ at the weekend that Sen. Richard Gordon, Blue Ribbon chairman, had subpoenaed most of these individuals behind Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., linked to Davao-based businessmen, but that subpoena servers had not been able to track them down yet.

“That’s right. The OSAA was unable to serve the subpoenas. Let’s ask the Bureau of Immigration if they have left the country. We will ask the NBI to track them down,” Drilon said, partly in Filipino.

As of Friday, only former Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lao and Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco  Duque were grilled by the senators in connection with the wholesale transfer of P42 billion in Bayanihan funds lodged with DOH, to the then Lao-led Procurement Service of the DBM (PS-DBM).

Senate probers learned that under Lao, several suppliers with questionable credentials were able to bag billions in contracts for pandemic-related needs. Gordon noted that Lao admitted meeting with some of the suppliers, which  the Blue Ribbon chief said violated a basic tenet in bidding, marking out the subsequent deals as smacking of “supply-driven contracts.”

Also at the DWIZ interview, Drilon said the senators will now insist on abolishing two offices that have made a mockery of fiscal governance because these allowed billions in scarce State funds to be “parked” instead of being returned to the National Treasury.

It was noted that the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) and PS-DBM also counter the spirit of the procurement law, which encourages capacity building among the individual procurement offices of various government agencies, because the agencies simply “outsource” their bidding requirements to the PITC and PS-DBM.

Last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto had tagged the PITC and PS-DBM as “mega parking lots” of billions, skirting the law requiring unused funds to revert to the National Treasury.

State witness Lao?

In a separate weekend radio interview, Drilon, replying to a query, said that if Lao wishes to spill the beans on who caused the transfer of the funds from DOH to PS-DBM or who “endorsed” the questioned suppliers like Pharmally Corp. to his office, Lao must first undertake a sworn affidavit detailing all these and naming the parties involved.

Otherwise, he said, partly in Filipino, “I pity him; he’s the only one who will be punished.”

Drilon also noted the witness protection program usually prioritizes the “least guilty,” so that Lao would first have to prove that there were far more powerful people who caused such questioned transactions.

Duque would certainly have a liability, for authorizing the transfer of the P42-billion funds, as he admitted to Blue Ribbon probers, said Drilon.

Drilon deplored that the face masks and face shield were “too much overpriced,” noting that one supplier “starting from zero income in 2019 earned more or less P300-million earning in 2020.”

He cited Gordon saying the Philippine Red Cross, which Gordon chairs, bought face masks at P5 apiece, “but here it was priced at P22.00 and even up to P27.00.”

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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