Senators raise serious doubts that PITC, with its poor track record, should purchase COVID-19 vaccines for the government

Published November 17, 2020, 7:34 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate leaders aired on Tuesday their reservations on the Philippine International Trading Corporation’s (PITC) ability to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for the country once supplies are available.

Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Department of Trade and Industry-attached corporation might not be able to deliver on time the vaccines that the government would ask it to procure.

During the chamber’s plenary debates on the proposed budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government and its attached agencies, he cited the delays in the PITC’s procurements on behalf of government agencies like the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, among others, whose funds for such purchases were made available since 2016.

“In fact, their (PITC) track record doesn’t seem to be good. As I have pointed out, dito sa (here in the) PNP, it took them four years, and then ngayon, pangakong ide-deliver. Eh paano na ‘pag vaccine ‘yan, baka apat na taon hindi pa rin dumating (What if these are vaccines, it might take four years and still not arrive)?” Recto said.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara giggled at Recto’s comparison, saying: “Obsolete na ‘yong vaccine (The vaccines will be obsolete)…by that time.”

“Wala kang inoculate, namatay na lahat (You failed to inoculate, everyone already died of COVID-19),” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon followed.

President Duterte had tasked the PITC to facilitate the purchase COVID-19 vaccines from abroad. Under his initial plan, the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines will provide a P20-billion loan to PITC, which will then sell the vaccines to the Department of Health for distribution to poor beneficiaries.

Lawmakers, on the other hand, set aside P8 billion for vaccine purchase in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, and another P10 billion in unprogrammed funds to be released once government resources are available.

Drilon supported Recto’s earlier proposal that the PITC waive its four-percent commission not only for procuring the vaccines, but also for other projects that its services were tapped.

“I don’t want to think that it is this commission which influences the various government offices from availing of the services of PITC…That is why we are supporting, and probably if we can move that part of the special provisions is a provision which will prohibit the payment of commission to PITC, not only in COVID[-19] but in all other cases, as Senator Recto said,” he said.

The senators said the fondness of agencies to outsource their procurements through the PITC should be stopped.

Recto, who called the practice as “pasa-buy”, said this also gives Congress a false sense of security that the agencies have already disbursed and obligated the funds that were appropriated to them, and in turn will shortchange the public since the needed government services were not delivered to them.

“It is a way to make it appear that an agency has obligated its budget. And in truth and in fact, it is just another layer, and there has not been a significant process made in terms of procurement or actual disbursement of budget, your honor,” Angara agreed.

“Yes, it’s a practice, it can be deceptive at times,” he continued.