“Hindi dapat pinagkakakitaan ang COVID-19 crisis.”
This was the remark of Senator Risa Hontiveros as she filed a resolution urging the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit on all government spending related to the response to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469).
The proposed Senate Resolution No. 479 was also signed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Finance Committee Chair Sonny Angara, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and minority Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Leila de Lima.
“Congress early this year, through the Bayanihan Act, gave the government comprehensive powers, including the power to re-align and allocate billions of taxpayers’ money to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Kailangan nating malaman kung ang tulong ba ay napunta para sa dapat tulungan,” Hontiveros said.
RA 11469 allowed government to swiftly procure commodities, facilities, utilities and services deemed necessary for COVID-19 response with exemptions from the requirements of bidding as laid out in the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184). However, various procurements made in relation to COVID-19 have been marred by allegations of overpricing, Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros’ resolution cited the government purchase of automated nucleic acid extractors for PhP 4 million against PhP 1.75 million purchased by the private sector, personal protective equipment [PPE] sets of PhP 1,800 when the market price ranges from PhP 400 to PhP 1,000, and the importation of more expensive RT-PCR test kits from China and Korea while cheaper Philippine-made ones are gathering dust in laboratories.
The said resolution also cited the purchase of allegedly overpriced PPE by the Procurement Services of the Department of Budget and Management [PS-DBM] and Philippine International Trading Corporation [PITC] ‘while many health workers and frontliners have fallen ill from the lack of adequate protective gear.’
“Sapat ba ang naging pondo para sa mga PPE? At kung sapat, bakit parang hindi napunta sa mga frontliners?” Hontiveros asked. “This health crisis should not allow us to relax our accountability measures. The people should be able to trust the government that no one is lining their pockets with taxpayers’ money,” she added.
The resolution also urged COA to present its findings before Congress is set to deliberate on the 2021 budget. “We are anticipating massive allocations to address health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19. It is of critical importance that there be audit findings to guide legislators in our exercise of the power of the purse,” Hontiveros concluded.