PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, August 21, 2021, defended the procurement of supplies by the Department of Health (DOH) for its coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response.

He said he had told DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III to skip the bidding process required by law and immediately procure the face masks and other essential supplies, but Duque had ignored his directive and went ahead with the bidding.

“Ang order ko talaga because…pandemic, eh. Ang hawaan mabilis na. It was spreading like a wildfire. So my order to Duque is still there. Sabi ko kung ano ang bibilhin mo, bilhin mo na. Huwag mo na i-bidding, diretso na,” Duterte said during his public address aired on Saturday morning.

“Sabihin mo upon my orders pero hindi niya sinunod, nag-bidding. Hindi ko alam nag-bidding pala talaga sila,” he added.

The DOH is being criticized for the deficiencies in its use of Covid-19 response funds, which were flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The DOH procured face masks and face shields from April to May 2020 through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

The face masks were purchased for P13.50 to P27.72 per piece while the face shield was procured at P120 each.

Then PS head Lloyd Christopher Lao earlier said these were the lowest prices at that time.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez confirmed that the price of face masks went up to P28 to P30 per piece in March to April 2020 due to scarcity. The suggested retail price for face masks then was P28 per piece.

For the face shield, Lopez said they set its SRP at P26 to 50 per piece.

He said the price of the eyeglass frame type ranged from P50 to P100 each while the helmet type was P200 to P250 per piece.

Lao also said the DOH had tapped the PS because it was “overwhelmed.” The main function of the PS is to procure commonly used supplies for government offices.

The procurement of face masks in behalf of the DOH was not covered by a memorandum of agreement because Lao said face shields and face masks, which are necessary for protection against Covid-19, are considered as common supplies by the Government Procurement Policy Board.

Meanwhile, Duterte called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to give the government agencies, particularly those directly involved in Covid-19 pandemic response, some “breathing space.”

He asked the COA to at least start its audit at the end of the year to give the agencies ample time to collate and validate documents.

“You do not conduct unnecessarily ‘yung mga audit na audit na ongoing pa. We are fighting a pandemic. They are fighting a war against an enemy na hindi natin nakikita. Give them enough elbow room to move,” he said.

“Suggestion ko lang ‘yan. Huwag kang pumasok ngayon kasi ongoing ang barilan between the virus and the government’s vaccine. There is a war there. Huwag ka masyado – basta bigla ka na lang pumasok, mag-conduct ka ng ano. I-timing ninyo,” he added.

Earlier, Duterte said the deficiencies flagged by COA were not due to missing funds but to incomplete documents. (SunStar Philippines)