Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday pressed Lloyd Christopher Lao, a former aide of Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, to explain to the Senate the circumstances behind the Department of Health’s (DOH) transfer of P42.4-billion budget to the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (DBM-PS) even without any proper documentation.
Drilon said Lao “left behind so many questionable transactions” that the Upper Chamber needs to dig in especially on the issue of the government’s procurement of face masks and face shields that are clearly overpriced.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, has required the DBM to submit all the transactions entered into by the DBM-PS in behalf of the DOH for the P42.4-billion budget that was passed on to them.
Gordon’s panel has launched an inquiry into the Commission on Audit’s (COA) report which detected deficiencies on the DOH’s spending of the P67.3-billion funds allocated to it for its COVID-19 response.
The COA had particularly flagged the DBM-PS for buying overpriced personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other medical supplies then selling them to the DOH without the required documents. To recall, there was a shortage of PPEs and medical supplies when the pandemic started in March last year.
The panel took note of the DBM’s statement that Lao had already resigned quietly from the agency last June. But Drilon said Lao is not yet off the hook even if he has officially resigned from the office.
“If there was overpricing, certainly he (Lao) is responsible... And just to put it in context. We’re not talking here of small money. From our research—on the face masks alone—we estimate that the overprice is a billion pesos,” Drilon said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
Drilon said the DOH has its own Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) which could have done the necessary paperwork for the procurement of face masks and face shields.
Yet, he said, it is surprising that the DOH decided to transfer the P42-billion to the DBM-PS. “Somebody must have given them instructions. Whoever this official is, why was a memorandum of agreement (MOA) not required?” Drilon asked.
“Prudence would have dictated that when you transfer P42-billion, you execute a document which will define the responsibility of DOH and the PS insofar as spending of public funds is concerned. You cannot leave this to the whim and caprice of gov’t officials. There are certain rules to be followed and it must be followed,” the senator stressed.
Asked if he feels uncomfortable with the fact Lao is a former aide of Go, who heads the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Drilon said it is “immaterial” at this point.
“My comfort or discomfort is immaterial. We assume that the appointees are qualified until they prove otherwise so we leave it at that because we are still investigating this issue and we will not leave any stone unturned in uncovering what could be overpricing in the procurement service,” he explained.
“And really the issue of the procurement service’s existence is something that I told Sen. Gordon yesterday. That we should look at it as a matter of policy. Because there is another GOCC (government owned and controlled corporation) that is engaged in the same thing,” he said referring to the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC).