The Department of Health remains under the glare of the national spotlight as Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed late last week that several ambulances the agency had purchased were overpriced by P1 million per unit.
In an interview, Lacson said that the DOH had procured ambulances equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AEB) under the agency’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program. But upon comparing prices with local governments that had procured the same units, they had spent only P1.5 million.
Incidentally, it was he who had realigned the 2021 budget towards the HFEP, adding insult to injury.
“Ako masama ang loob ko dito because sa 2021, ako ‘yung nag-realign ng P8.68 billion papunta sa HFEP,” he said. “That’s on top of the 2020 insertion, or realignment that I made na P1 billion.”
“Pagkatapos malalaman ko from some LGUs (local government units) na ganyan ka-anomalya ‘yung pag-procure ng mga equipment para sa HFEP. That’s on top of the deficiencies noted in the maintenance in the procurement of the HFEP at ‘yung deficiency rin sa infrastructure,” he continued.
The senator drew on a term that social media users had coined for the events that have steadily unraveled: “plundemic”, taken from the words “plunder” and “pandemic”. Under the law, plunder is a crime done by a public official who acquires ill-gotten wealth in the amount of at least P50 million through illegal acts including graft and corruption.
Lacson further said that he was given documents showing that the ambulances DOH bought for P2.5 million, actually cost only P1.5 million.
“Officials of one [local government] admitted they were given three ambulance units by the DOH,” he said. “Due to the need, and because they also became curious, they looked into the acceptance ledger, where they saw the declared price of the units.”
In response to the health agency’s defense P6 that the ambulances procured by them and the local government were not the same, he said: “How can these be different when the local government units merely copied the specifications of what the DOH bought? They were Nissan cargo vans. Our sources looked at the technical details and they are the same.”
Earlier, health secretary Francisco Duque III said that he was having the matter looked into. The DOH had defended the purchase, claiming that the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder. Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said that the cost covered driver training and health personnel to man the vehicles.
The country’s health agency had been under fire over deficiencies in the spending of P67 billion in Covid19 funds. Since then, it has been discovered that the DOH gave Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, a new company with a small capital, the bulk of pandemic supply contracts. In addition, the firm is headed by associates of President Rodrigo Duterte’s former adviser, Michael Yang. The executives are wanted in Taiwan for financial crimes.