Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: September 09, 2021 07:26 AM GMT
A Filipino health worker is seen here in protective gear in this Sept. 1 file photo. (Photo: AFP)
Philippine senators have launched an investigation into how a Chinese national and ally of President Rodrigo Duterte was awarded a multi-million-dollar contract by the government to supply “overpriced” face masks and other medical equipment in the fight against the coronavirus
The Senate probe comes amid accusations of cronyism and corruption surrounding the deal.
Michael Yang, Duterte’s former economic adviser, was targeted after his company Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporations won an 8.82 billion peso (US$176 million) contract to supply face masks, test kits and other medical supplies to government health facilities.
Opposition Senator Richard Gordon claimed the face masks were more than double the market price.
“Why did the government bring in this company that sold very expensive face masks? The normal market price for each piece is 13.5 pesos [27 US cents] while Pharmally’s are 27.7 pesos per piece?” he told reporters at a Sept. 6 Senate hearing on the matter.
He also questioned why the contract was given to a Chinese–run company instead of a local entrepreneur.
What boggles me is why the government keeps on buying from this company that sells overpriced medical products
Another senator questioned the price of test kits, which at 1,720 pesos were almost double the market price.
Vincente Sotto also said protective gear was sold at 2,000 pesos apiece compared to ones in the market at 900 pesos.
“What boggles me is why the government keeps on buying from this company that sells overpriced medical products,” he said during the hearing.
Senator Gordon called for the contract to be torn up.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Palawan said face masks have become a symbol of corruption within the Duterte administration.
“President Rodrigo Duterte … as well as his Chinese cohorts have used the health crisis to steal billions of pesos of the people’s money,” he said on Facebook.
“Nothing speaks more eloquently about the symbol of corruption in this present administration than the face mask and face shield that we Filipinos are required to wear. This protective gear was bought from their Chinese connections at grossly overpriced amounts, totaling billions of pesos,” he said.
Duterte's spokesman said the contract was awarded based on the company’s ability to supply the equipment and not on the relationship between the president and Yang.
"We have a principle that a corporation has a separate personality, separate and distinct from the stockholders," Harry Roque told reporters on Sept. 6 without commenting on the overpricing accusations.