Ranking officials reacted with frustration, indignation and disbelief to allegations of corruption in the Duterte administration’s pandemic response.
Vice President Leni Robredo said it has become “frustrating” to hear President Duterte constantly attacking critics and the opposition instead of focusing on managing the government’s COVID-19 response.
In an interview yesterday on ANC, Robredo said Duterte’s regular public addresses have only exposed his misguided priorities.
“The last two press conferences were really quite frustrating for us because we’re in the middle of a surge, requiring all hands on deck, and the urgency is really most important now. Then, the greater part of the press conference was focused on the senators, castigating COA (Commission on Audit). From the words that come out of his mouth, we can get a sense of what his priorities are,” she said in English and Filipino.
“We should be talking about the steps we should take next as our problems become more serious,” she said.
She noted that the President seems to be unfamiliar with the goings-on in government agencies.
“When I read the transcripts (of thepublic address) I get a sense that he doesn’t know all the details. So the way I see it, there’s a lack of focus on the details. It’s not a lack of effort on the agencies. But the interweaving of everyone’s efforts is lacking. I don’t know what’s happening at the top, but you can feel that it’s lacking,” Robredo added.
The Vice President called Malacañang’s rant against the previous administration’s purchase of high-end personal protective equipment (PPE) a “late attempt” to divert the issue of alleged overpricing in procurements the Duterte administration has to answer for.
The purchase of high-end PPEs during the Aquino administration, she said, was aboveboard, unlike the current administration’s awarding of the multibillion-peso deal with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. that did not go through public bidding.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno for his part said he is wondering why the country has to spend so much on face shields when what the people need more are medicines and cures for COVID-19.
“We were shocked to learn that billions of pesos were spent in purchase of face shields. For me, it is just an additional burden to the people. Use face shields in hospitals. Let us not require the people because we were not able to give jobs but then we are requiring them to spend,” Moreno told reporters after leading a groundbreaking ceremony in Quiapo, Manila.
“The Philippines is the only one in the world (that requires face shield),” he said.
“As a COVID survivor, my call is to prioritize the purchase of medicines, not plastics,” he stressed.
“My call to one agency of our government, buy Remdesivir, buy Tocilizumab and don’t buy face shields. Many people are looking for Tocilizumab. Our policy in Manila is that since the problem in COVID is universal, it has to be approached inclusively. We have free swab test, we have drive-thru, now medicines,” Moreno said, apparently referring to the Department of Health.
“The medicines are helping the people, this is what we should buy. The PPEs are in hospitals, face shields. We should refrain from buying PPEs and face shields because they already bought billions worth of face shields,” Moreno said.
He said the government expects to spend only P25 million for 1,000 pieces of Tocilizumab, at market price of P25,000 each.
“If you buy 1,000 Tocilizumab at P25,000, that is only P25 million. If you buy 10,000 Tocilizumab and Remdesivir, it will be worth less than P200 million and it will already cover the entire Philippines. So, my advice is for them to buy these medicines, not face shields or PPEs,” Moreno said.
“You should buy Tocilizumab, Remdesivir, oxygen, machines for hospitals because these are what the people need. If we really love the people, like what you have said, if you are indeed for the people, like what you have said, then buy medicines not face shields and PPEs because as we speak, there will be infected persons again. As we speak, there will be people in severe condition, person in critical condition and medicines are what these people need,” Moreno said.
The mayor said the country has been dealing with COVID-19 for more than a year now and the people continue to suffer because medicines are not given priority.
Moreno also said money spent for the purchase of face shields and PPEs may have been enough to build a hospital.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also lambasted officials for taking advantage of the pandemic to amass wealth, even as he maintained that the hundreds of ambulances procured by the DOH were overpriced by at least P1 million despite protests to the contrary by the department and its supplier.
Lacson said he has received so many reports and complaints of corruption that he has been validating.
He cited the case of one local government unit that received three such ambulances from the DOH, and decided to procure more units due to urgent need.
What that LGU found out – after purchasing the same Nissan cargo vans, retrofitting and equipping them with the same equipment installed in the DOH ambulances – is that the new units cost P1.45 million each or P1 million less than those procured by the agency at P2.5 million per unit, he said.
The senator debunked the DOH’s assertion that the LGU-procured ambulances were incomplete, pointing out that the units delivered by the agency still lacked automated external defibrillators (AEDs) despite being listed in the specifications.
“I asked private firms, and the result was the same. They procured their own ambulances and equipped them according to DOH standards. The prices of those procured by LGUs and private firms were not much different,” Lacson told dzXL in Filipino.
“We have two points of comparison… it’s clear (there was overpricing),” he said.
He said he was not sure how DOH officials could extricate themselves from the corruption scandal.
He said he was not targeting any particular official or supplier but was only pointing out possible cases of corruption.
“The netizens have invented a new word, ‘plundemic’,” Lacson said.