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Lacson quizzes DOH about ‘overpriced’ equipment for COVID-19 testing

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday sought explanation from the Department of Health (DOH) why the government procured a costly laboratory equipment when a different brand used by the private sector is available at a lower price.

"Bumili po sila (private sector) ng nucleic acid extractor. Ang unit price nila is P1.75 million each, ang supplier nila 'yung Sansure... 'Yung DOH po nag-procure din kayo... ang binili ninyo P4million each. So bakit mas mahal ang bili ng gobyerno kaysa sa nabili ng private sector?" Lacson asked.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that none of the said equipment was directly procured by the DOH because they asked for the help of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

"We have to ask the support, the help of the PS-DBM precisely because at around that time when we were beginning to ramp up our testing capacity, there were like 56 of our people including senior officials who had to be put on quarantine," Duque said.

PS-DBM officer-in-charge Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao explained that they can only procure what was indicated in the agency purchase request (APR) submitted by the requesting body.

"Since the APR issued to us is very brand-based, we can only buy that specific brand which in this case is the Thermo [Scientific] King Fisher," he said.

He added that under normal circumstances, the procurement law does not allow such brand-specific requests but consideration has been given now that there is COVID-19 pandemic.

"In Bayanihan Act, it should be based on the decision of the agency like DOH, RITM, kailangan po i-validate. Hindi kami makaka-decide noon," Lao said.

Lacson pressed the question again why the DOH opted to buy the brand with a higher price.

In response, Duque said the said brand is needed because there would be compatibility issues if all nucleic acid extractors would be Sansure.

"'Yung Thermo Scientific is a US brand compatible with the US real-time PCR machine which the Philippine labs have procured in the past. So incompatible kung puro Sansure ang bibilhin," Duque said.

"Hindi ko ho naintindihan ang explanation ninyo," Lacson said in response.

Duque assured that he has instructed the health officials in-charge of administration and finance and all the program managers to provide the necessary documents about the said equipment.

"If and when an investigation will happen, we will cooperate fully," he said. —LDF, GMA News