Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday questioned the "overpriced" face masks and face shields procured by the Department of Health.
During a Senate hearing, Drilon asked if the face masks and shields were part of the P42 billion COVID-19 funds whose transfer to the budget department's procurement service, was flagged by the Commission on Audit.
According to state auditors, the face masks were priced at P27.22 per piece while the face shields cost P120 per piece.
"These transfers raise red flags as these are unaccounted or unliquidated transfers. These are most susceptible to corruption as they easily become invisible," Drilon said.
Drilon pointed out that the P42 billion transferred to the PS-DBM comprised the biggest chunk of the P67 billion COVID-19 funds whose management was riddled with "deficiencies" according to COA.
"It appears to me that the DOH tried to mask its huge unobligation rate and its inefficiency by transferring P42 billion to PS-DBM. In effect, this fund transfer minimized, on paper, the DOH's underspending of COVID-19 funds," the senator said.
The DOH procurement director, Paul Guimbarda, told senators that when the department procured the face masks and shields at the start of the pandemic, their suggested retail prices "were not yet valid." There was also a global demand and short supply of these items at that time, he added.
Tina Rose Marie Canda, DBM officer-in-charg, said former Budget USec. Christopher Lao was the head of procurement service when the "overpriced" face masks and shields were procured, but he recently resigned from the department.
Drilon asked the DBM to provide them Lao's last known address so that he can be invited to the next hearing.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was investigating findings of the COA on the DOH's management of COVID-19 funds, along with other issues related to the department's budget utilization.