Drilon, Lacson: COA must audit all Covid-19 supply purchases worth billions of pesos

Former Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and former Senator Panfilo Lacson pressed the Commission on Audit (COA) to audit all the Covid-19 supply purchases worth billions of pesos during the Duterte administration.

"The new administration should pursue and resolve this matter to its logical conclusion. The Filipino people deserve no less," Lacson said in a statement released on Wednesday, November 16.

"All the Covid supply purchases should be subject to COA audit. This is an obligation imposed by the Constitution on COA. The NDA cannot be cited to prevent an audit and full public disclosure of how public funds were spent," Drilon stated also in a separate statement.

"Should PS-DBM (Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management) as the purchasing agent, refuse to give COA access to the documents, COA can refuse to approve the expenses, and consider the amounts unliquidated," Drilon, a former Justice secretary, pointed out.

Asked if the non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) entered into by the Philippine government and foreign drug manufacturers were shown to senators during his tenure, Drilon replied: "No. I wish to remind DOH (Department of Health) and PS-DBM that the funds disbursed for COVID pandemic purchases could not be classified as ‘confidential or intelligence funds’ which can be liquidated through the Sealed Envelope system."

"That these supplies were emergency purchases do not exclude them from the regular public COA audit," he added.

For his part, Lacson said there are hundreds of billions of reasons to audit the government procured vaccines especially after the issues that senators repeatedly raised in the last Congress have not yet been answered concerning the grossly overpriced Chinese brand vaccine Sinovac compared to the other brands like AstraZeneca, Moderna and even the US brand Pfizer that then Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. had earlier booked but ignored by the DOH.

"Remember the famous 'Somebody dropped the ball' remark made by SFA Locsin?," Lacson asked.

Larson maintained that the NDA "could very well be a 'cover-up' for the unconscionable misuse of public funds at a time when our economy was already taking a beating because of the Covid-19 pandemic."

Asked if any of the NDAs were shown to them at the time, Lacson said they tried but nothing happened.

Lacson said the P5.9-trillion debt incurred by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2016 has doubled because debts were incurred to buy Covid-19 medical supplies.

"Hindi lang vaccines. Pati test kits and machines overpriced din. Pati face masks (Not only vaccines. Even test kits and the machines are also overpriced. Including face masks)," he added.

The report by former Senator Richard Gordon as then chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee was not officially reported out as only a few senators signed the committee report.

During his probe on alleged overpricing of Covid-related medical supplies by the PS-DBM, Gordon had crossed swords with then President Duterte over his way of investigating the alleged P10-billion overpriced purchases.