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Duterte admits ordering Duque to skip bidding in 2020 face mask procurement

President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that he ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to skip the usual bidding process in the procurement of face masks during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“I remember nag-Cabinet meeting tayo right after I constituted the Task Force. I remember distinctly, sinabi ko kay Sec. Duque na bumili ng kailangang face mask or whatever equipment needed. Sabi ko, ‘Huwag ka nang mag-bidding. Matagal iyan,’” Duterte said in a taped briefing aired Saturday morning.

(I remember one Cabinet meeting right after I constituted the Task Force, I remember distinctly that I ordered Sec. Duque to buy the necessary face masks or whatever equipment that was needed. I told him, ‘Don’t bother with the bidding process. It will take too much time.’)

The President said he directed Duque to skip the bidding as he recognized that the country was in an emergency situation.

However, Duterte claimed that Duque chose to proceed with the bidding as he was “just being careful.”

“I want to make it of record to the public and everybody that I, and the Cabinet knew about it... ang sabi ko, ‘Go ahead and buy the things that you need to fight the pandemic nga e,’” the President said.

“Emergency ito. Emergency hanggang ngayon. (This is an emergency. Until now we are in an emergency.) Just to disabuse the minds of some people about corruption. It ain’t here at this time and I suppose that you are barking at the wrong person.”

In its 2020 annual audit report, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service’s (DBM-PS) acquisition of 113.95 million pieces of surgical masks and 1.32 million face shields in April and May 2020, a period when prices were “so high” because of high demand.

The masks were purchased from various suppliers for P13.50 to P27.72 each, while the face shields were bought for P120 each.

At a Senate hearing earlier this week, senators grilled DBM and Department of Health officials over the highly-priced face masks and face shields.

The lawmakers also questioned why the DOH transferred the procurement to DBM-PS even though the Health Department's officials are capable of holding several procurement biddings.

The DOH’s transfer of the procurement biddings to the DBM-PS was allegedly done without a memorandum of agreement.

Citing various administrative orders and government policies, Duterte said a MOA was no longer needed as face masks and face shields were included in the common-use supply equipment in the list of DBM-PS.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in the same briefing, said he reviewed his department's documents and it showed that they had declared a suggested retail price on face masks of P28 per piece because “the prices then were really going up even beyond P28” in March 2020.

Meanwhile, DBM officer-in-charge Tina Rose Canda justified the transfer of DOH’s funds to DBM-PS for the procurement of the face masks and face shields.

“Doon sa transfer ng pondo, at that point, pandemic iyon. I think the DOH had no recourse but to transfer the fund to PS-DBM at that time,” she said.

(The transfer of funds, at that point, at the onset of the pandemic, I think the DOH had no recourse but to transfer the fund to PS-DBM at that time.)

“Under the laws naman, talagang kapag common-use equipment, talagang sa PS-DBM iyong i-po-procure,” she added.

(Under the laws, PS-DBM is tasked to procure these common-use equipment.)

— DVM, GMA News