The business community has expressed dismay and noted of integrity issues over the multi-billion health equipment and supply procurement controversy at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“It is disheartening to learn of the integrity issues over the procurement of certain equipment and supplies needed to combat COVID-19 and other related issues,” said Amb. Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) during their 3rd General Membership Meeting.
Yujuico, however, said that they recognized that government is doing its best to implement programs and reforms to mitigate the impact of the Covid crisis, but this did prevent them from expressing their dismay over the Duterte administration’s controversial procurement, which is now subject to Senate investigation.
PCCI, known as the voice of Philippine business, also reiterated their disagreement with the government’s decision to impose a hard lockdown during surges in COVID cases.
“We are frustrated over government’s penchant for declaring lockdowns as its primary tool to stem the spread of virus. Lockdowns have caused more problems with the millions of lost jobs, not to mention the damage to mental health of many of our countrymen,” Yujuico emphasized.
The pandemic and the subsequent hard lockdowns in the country, one of the longest and strictest, have resulted in over 4 million jobs lost and 100,000 businesses closed, which are mostly micro, small and medium enterprises. Even the big companies have not been spared.
“We have seen closures, bankruptcies in airlines, hotels and tourism sectors, among others. And yet, our problems are not over,” he said.
Yujuico invited Senator Richard Gordon, speaker at the PCCI 3rd GMM, to share his suggestions on what options are still available to mitigate the catastrophic effects of Covid-19 whether for the government, the private sector, or the humanitarian agencies such as the Red Cross.
Gordon, who has been the object of tirades from President Duterte for his criticisms over the DBM procurement controversies, put to task the President for the mess in the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic efforts.
“Ang lider dapat ang managot (The leader should be accountable), the buck stops there,” Gordon emphasized said during the question and answer portion following his speech at the PCCI GMM.
Gordon criticized the government for being unable to maximize the machines that were procured to conduct 60,000 tests a day stressing the PhilHealth was so slow and Filipinos have to pay for the test when it should have been free, just like COVID-19 vaccinations.
Gordon further said he was shock at the reports/data he got on how the government funds were spent for the procurement of COVID equipment and supplies by the DBM. He vowed to stay focus and fast in his investigation as chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee at the Senate against the DBM. He called for a need to wage war against corruption and that the rule of law must be established.
He said that the statements made by Duterte discrediting the Commission on Audit reports of inefficiencies in fund management by various government agencies, and Gordon’s alleged “illegal” use of resources at the Red Cross where Gordon is chairman, among others, are all meant to distract the people’s attention and his focus on the Senate investigation.
Duterte, whose term ends in June next year, during his midnight press conferences has urged the Department of Health to ignore the COA reports. Duterte, who has been contemplating of running as vice-president in next year’s election, already bared plans to audit COA once he gets elected. His daughter Sarah Duterte though is also planning for a presidential run while his most trusted aid Senator Bong Go was said to be running too for the top of the land.
Gordon has criticized the lack of vision of the Duterte administration adding that the President’s tirade has only turned off foreign investors.
“And the enemy is of course, our slowness in our bureaucracy. We’re supposed to have easy access to business but we’re the slowest. It denies us the opportunity to be able to attract more, we have the least attractive indicators for the Philippines,” said Gordon as he enumerated areas where the Philippines is least attractive to foreign capital.
With the changes in global supply chain, he said FDIs in 2020 went to Vietnam with $6.7 billion, and Indonesia with $19.1 billion, while the Philippines was nailed at $6.5 billion. In 2019, the Philippines got $8.6 billion in FDIs, but Indonesia received $24.9 billion and Vietnam $16.1 billion.
Of the 30 Japanese firms qualified for government subsidy to relocate their firms in ASEAN countries from China, he said, 15 firms went to Vietnam while only 3 firms are expected to set up shop in the Philippines.
Gordon even noted that other competitor countries in ASEAN are already doing investment and tourism campaigns because they anticipate that the region will recover together and compete at the same time.
While their campaigns did not say do not go these countries, he said, their messages conveyed their readiness to accept tourists and investors because they can protect the safety of these foreigners, he pointed out.