Gordon: Duterte 'covering his tracks' in overpriced COVID-19 supplies purchase

Senator Richard Gordon on Wednesday, September 8, accused President Duterte of covering up the alleged overpricing in the government's procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other equipment amid the pandemic

President Duterte and Senator Senator Richard Gordon (File photos)

" covering his tracks, trying to protect his people, because people like people who are loyal to their people. It’s a false sense of leadership," Gordon said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

"To me, there's an absence of leadership. He’s not very hands on. He has meetings at night, and when he has meetings at night, he flays away at everybody including us now," he added.

Duterte has been lashing out at Gordon and other senators for digging up supposed irregularities on purchases made by the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service (DBM-PS) in behalf of the Department of Health (DOH).

During the Senate Blue Ribbon Commiittee's probe, senators particularly questioned the award of over P8 billion in contracts to a newly-registered foreign firm whose supplies are more expensive than those offered by local manufacturers.

They suspected plunder in the deals as they linked the executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation to Duterte's former economic adviser and friend, businessman Michael Yang.

Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon panel, maintained that Duterte should be the first to castigate his appointees for any anomalies.

"Parang minadali para mabenta nila agad at 'yong kaibigan mo ay umasenso -- wala akong sinasabi na kaibigan mo ang binigyan -- pero nagtataka ko na 'yong kaibigan ng kaibigan ng Presidente ang (It appears that they rushed the procurement so that they friends can benefit -- although I'm not saying that your friend benefitted from it -- but I'm wondering that the friends of the President's friend was chosen for the purchase)," he said.

"I'm just going by the facts," he maintained.

For Gordon, the administration was giving undue preference for Pharmally, even as local businesses have proven that they are able to provide for the government's pandemic supply needs.

During Tuesday's hearing, Ferdinand Ferrer of the EMS Components Assembly Inc. admitted suffering financial losses after they were forced by the DBM-PS to reduce the unit price of their face masks from P13.50, as initially agreed in their award, to just P2.35 per piece.

Pharmally's face masks, on the other hand, cost P22 to P27.72 each.

National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. denied favoring the foreign company and explained that the government needed suppliers that can deliver goods promptly.

Resigned DBM-PS head and budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao also explained that they were in a rush to buy COVID-19 supplies.

But senators noted that the agency still had transactions with Pharmally months after the April, 2020 awards, and even secured P2.3 billion more in contracts with the government this year.

"'Yong ating (Our) process is so graft-ridden, composed of people close to the powers that be and composed of people who will give it to friends...They're just overspending, it's a graft-galore," Gordon said on Wednesday.

"Tapos sasabihin mo 'Eh kasi wala kaming mabilhan eh' (And then you will tell us you can't find any other suppliers) -- this Filipino company proved that they could do it. And other entities like us. We were able to buy, not at those dizzying amounts," he added, citing the Philippine Red Cross' purchases.

Duterte had defended both Lao and Yang from the procurement controversy. Lao helped Duterte in his presidential campaign in 2016; while the President said he has known Yang from some 20 years.

The Senate has ordered the arrest of Yang to compel him to attend the Blue Ribbon panel's hearing.