PASIG CITY (1 September 2021) — National Task Force against COVID 19 Chief Implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr defended the national government’s procurement of COVID-19 response supplies, particularly the personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased for medical frontliners and healthcare workers during the onset of the pandemic last year.

“When the pandemic started, our main objective was to save lives and protect our healthcare workers who are at the forefront of the battle against COVID 19,” Galvez said during an online interview on Wednesday.

“Wala tayong face masks, walang test kits, walang PPEs pero ang mga namamatay, parami ng parami. We needed to bring in the supplies as quickly as possible and in larger volumes,” he added.

Galvez said each medical grade PPE set, priced at Php 1,700, is composed of medical grade cover-all, gloves, head cover, shoe cover, goggles, N95 mask, surgical mask, and surgical gown.

He recalled that when he was designated as NTF chief Implementer, they initially intended to procure three million sets, which at that time, would only meet the requirements of COVID referral hospitals.

Lack of supplies

However, Galvez said the number of hospitals across the country requesting for PPEs continued to increase on a daily basis.

“During March and April (2020), nagmamakaawa ‘yung mga ospital dahil wala silang PPEs. Walang magamit ang kanilang mga healthcare workers,” he said.

“With the help of Senator Pia Cayetano, we were able to get the number of PPEs we need to procure in order for us to have enough supply to be distributed to the whole country, which is more or less 16 million sets,” Galvez added.

He said that based on the initial evaluation of the capacities of NTF member-agencies including the Department of Health (DOH), the latter then did not have the manpower to purchase such a huge volume of PPEs as more than half of Its personnel were infected with COVID-19.

Galvez remembered convening the NTF-Resource Management and Logistics Cluster members including the DOH, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, Office of the Civil Defense, and Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to ensure that the national government would be able to secure the PPEs it needed.

“We looked at domestic production, pero mahina. We also asked the private sector for assistance. We inquired with other agencies including the diplomatic corps how we can produce the needed number of PPEs,” he said

“Kaya we asked PS-DBM to look for supplies. Kahit initial 3 million sets muna then 6 million or even 10 million sets. Pero ‘yung supplier na kayang magproduce ng ganoon karami in a span of one week,” Galvez added.

Lives at stake

He said that when the PS-DBM found a supplier from China that had the capacity to meet the bulk requirement for PPEs, the NTF did not waste time in finalizing the deal and arranged the shipment through military aircraft.

“’Yung procurement plan, buong NTF at IATF ‘yan. That was a collective decision kasi nakita natin ‘yung urgency. Kasi kapag hindi pa natin gagawin ‘yon, mas marami pang mamamatay,” Galvez said.

“Wala pong ibang kumpanya that can produce in a matter of days ng ganoong klaseng medical grade PPEs na kayang proteksyunan ang ating healthcare workers from infection,” he continued.

“Kaya it’s very unfair to be accused that we pre-planned the transfer of funds to PS-DBM. No money was diverted to corruption. How can one think of corruption when people are dying and many have been criticizing that the government is unprepared and slow,” Galvez said.

NTF Deputy Chief Implementer and testing czar Secretary Vivencio Dizon supported Galvez’ position, saying that the transfer of funds from the DOH to the PS-DBM was part of the whole-of-government approach to efficiently respond to the pandemic.

Judicious process

Galvez emphasized that the PPEs underwent emergency procurement and the payment was processed “judiciously” in observance of existing laws such as RA 9184 and relevant Government Procurement Policy Board issuances in line with RA 11469 or the Bayanihan Heal as One Act.

He also pointed out that the prices of PPEs procured by the national government during the pandemic were significantly lower than those purchased prior to the health crisis which was sometime between 2015 and 2016,

Galvez said that the PPEs at that time cost Php 3,500 and Php 3,864 per set respectively.

“Nag-research din po kami. ‘Yung Php 1,700 na presyo during this pandemic kung saan na kulang na kulang ang supply, kung titignan natin ay napakababa pa. Kulang pa sa kalahati. Kaya napakababa na ng pricing na ito,” he said.

The chief implementer appealed to the public, including lawmakers, to look at the issues objectively.

“Wala po muna sanang presumption of guilt para makita at matukoy natin kung ano ang naging pagkukulang namin,” Galvez said.

“The NTF and the IATF are willing to listen sa aming mga pagkukulang para amin itong mai-correct. We are in a pandemic and we are asking for unity. We cannot fight this COVID when we are divided,” he added. END