Drilon: Procurement of grossly overpriced PPE is 'premeditated plunder'

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday, Aug. 29 expressed belief the procurement of overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE) over P8-billion from an obscure company by the camp of former budget undersecretary Christopher Lao was premeditated.

“Mukhang plinano talaga itong pandarambong. Sa Revised Penal Code, meron kaming tinatawag na premeditated murder. Ay dito po, premeditated plunder ang nakikita ko eh. Plinano talaga ang pandarambong (It seems they planned this plunder. Under the RPC we have what we call premeditated murder. But here we see premeditated plunder. Plunder was part of the plan),” Drilon said in a DZBB radio interview.

Drilon said such actions are considered treachery especially during this time of a COVID-19 pandemic where the public is reeling from the loss of economic opportunities and facing uncertainty.

“Lalo na po in times of pandemic na ang pera ay kulang na kulang para sa ating mga kababayan, ito po ay treachery—panloloko sa kaban ng bayan,” he stressed.

Drilon further said this also cast doubts on the personality of former budget undersecretary Christopher Lao who was instrumental to the awarding of the P8.7-billion worth of contract to Pharmally Corporation, using the P42-billion transferred to it by the Department of Health (DOH).

Lao headed the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) procurement services (PS-DBM) and was instrumental in the procurement of the PPEs deemed overpriced by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The COA itself had earlier flagged this particular transfer of funds which is now part of the Senate blue ribbon committee’s ongoing investigation.

Drilon said circumstantial evidences show the series of events that point to premeditated plunder. Lao, he pointed, out, was already facing a series of controversies in the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), and yet he was still appointed as undersecretary by the DBM as early as August. 2019.

“Sinabi niya nag—apply lang siya. Ang sabi nga, (He claims he just applied for the post. As we say) tell that to the marines,” the minority leader said.

“Alam naman natin na hindi ka ma-appoint kung hindi ka inendorso ng secretary mo. Ipagtabi na natin iyan (We all know that you won’t be appointed if you are not endorsed by your secretary. But let’s set that aside),” he said.

Drilon noted Lao entered the DBM in August 2019, and then transferred to the DBM-PS on January 2, 2020 barely five months after. After the declaration of a state of emergency or quarantine on March 16, he said the government immediately released a resolution including face masks and PPEs as common-used supplies which is not originally part of the directive.

“Sa DOH ito binibili. At dahil emergency, negotiated lahat ito. Tapos barely 10 days after including PPEs and face masks, nagsimula nang maglipat ng pondo. Pagkatapos starting March 27, 2020, nagsimula nang ilipat yung P42B galing sa DOH papunta sa PS-DBM (They buy these from the DOH. And because its emergency, these are all negotiated. Barely 10 days after including PPEs and face masks, they started transferring funds. Starting March 27, 2020, the DOH started transferring P42-billion to PS-DBM),” he noted.

Drilon further said that based on Lao’s admission of negligence to the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing last Friday, he can be liable for violation of the anti-graft law.

“Sa akin, on that admission, pwede na siyang kasuhan sa ilalim ng (he can already be charged under the) anti-graft law. Because of his negligence, the government was prejudiced and damaged by the overpricing,” the senator stressed.

“Makikita mo lahat yung (You can really see all the) badges of fraud. Biruin mo, nag-resigned siya noong June 2021 pero may award pang P774.35M pagtapos nito nag-resigned (he resigned suddenly in June 2021, but he still managed to award another P774.35-million after he resigned),” the lawmaker stressed.