FAIR COMMENT | By Alito L. Malinao
“Hate and mistrust are the children of blindness” – William Watson
I am really saddened by the turn of events in our country, particularly now that the pandemic does not seem to slow down despite the valiant efforts of our government.
I am referring to the almost obsessive-compulsive behavior of some of our legislators to rid the government of corruption. We do not quarrel with the nobility of their desire. But what we are worried about is that the government cannot do anything without being subjected to the minutest scrutiny by our legislators, especially in the Senate.
Let’s take for example, the purchase by the Department of Health (DOH) of personal protective equipment (PPE). A few days ago, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros claimed that the PPE purchases facilitated by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which allowed negotiated procurement with suppliers to fast-track medical equipment and items needed to fight COVID-19, were overpriced by P1 billion.
She said the government awarded the multibillion-peso supply contracts for a two-month period to Chinese manufacturers, instead of giving it to Filipino firms. She said the DOH bought 5 million PPE sets that cost P1,700 to P 2,000 each from April to May this year. The price, she said, was P200 more expensive than the average estimated cost of PPE made by Philippine General Hospital (PGH), which pegged the cost at P1,200 to P1,500.
But the good senator was not telling the whole story. She was practically “shooting from the hip,” a journalistic idiom which means hastily making accusations without checking facts.
The fact is that the Department of Budget and Management bought testing kits and PPE on behalf of the DOH as the national government centralized procurement across departments and agencies so they could focus on their key functions instead of also dabbling in procurement activities.
In a statement, Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao said seven of the contracts for PPE sets were awarded to China-based companies from April to May because “there was no local supplier that could comply with the DOH-required eight-piece PPE set budgeted at P2,000 per set.”
According to Lao, PhilPharma was the sole local company which offered the eight-piece PPE set during the initial procurement, but its bid was declared noncompliant with the DOH requirements at P2,873 per set, or almost a third more expensive than what was budgeted.
“On the other hand, price offers received from the China-based suppliers averaged at P1,773.51, 38.27-percent lower than the offer of PhilPharma, and 11.32-percent lower than the allowable budget,” Lao said, adding that in fact, the government saved P2 billion from the deal.
What will happen to our country if our honorable senators would continuously engage in hurling allegations based on rumors and innuendos? Just because they have parliamentary immunity, can they just run roughshod over our officials and institutions and slander them?
And there should be an end to the proclivity of our legislators to call for investigation even on trivial matters. When a nincompoop in Quezon City posted on social media that it would be better to shoot on sight violators of health protocols, it was the same Riza Hontiveros who was quick to call for a Senate probe on a purely an administrative matter for the Quezon City officials to address to. Fortunately, her colleagues in the Senate just ignored her call.