Philippine economy

Duterte orders probe of company allegedly selling overpriced medical equipment

Sofia Tomacruz
Duterte orders probe of company allegedly selling overpriced medical equipment
(UPDATED) The Department of Budget and Management claims a company tried to corner the government into purchasing more expensive testing equipment

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe a couple who owned a company that allegedly tried to corner the government into purchasing overpriced medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Duterte gave the directive during a taped address aired close to midnight on Monday, May 25, after asking Cabinet officials about reports of a couple selling equipment at a higher price compared to other suppliers. 

“NBI should study the matter very very carefully kasi alam mo, itong mga putang inang negosyanteng ‘to (because you know these son of a bitch businessmen), when there is really an issue of humanity and greed, ‘yung hoarding…. It’s part of the business practices,” Duterte said.

On Tuesday, May 26, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will make sure the National Bureau of Investigation will immediately start the probe.

“The President has given a direct order to the NBI last night. I will make sure that the order is implemented,” Guevarra said.

Before giving the order, Duterte said he was “interested” to know if there was graft and corruption in  the procurement of medical supplies, and if “dirty money changed hands” during the course of purchasing equipment to respond to the pandemic.  

Duterte had earlier wanted an investigation into pricier testing equipment purchased by the government. 

Which couple? Duterte first addressed questions on reports of a married coupled named “Co” to Health Secretary Duque, who denied knowing them. 

Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao identified them as one of the bidders that was interested in supplying equipment to the government. He added the Co couple were owners of Omnibus Bio-Medical Systems Inc, which claimed to be the exclusive distributor of Sansure medical equipment in the Philippines. 

Lao said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had several documents from the Cos, among which was a letter sent to Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, offering to sell automated extraction machines to the government for some P4 million. The DBM then received another email from Omnibus offering to sell the equipment at P4,350,000. It is unclear if there was a difference between the prices offered. 

Lao pointed to this as the equipment Senator Panfilo Lacson referred to as being overpriced during a recent Senate hearing.

The DBM official said Omnibus was also among the companies who participated in a bidding, along with two other local companies, though it lost after a Hong Kong-based company offered to supply the equipment needed. 

“They’re complaining why we are not respecting their exclusive distributorship,” Lao said.  

Shunned from future deals: Things turned more sour when the government spoke to Sansure officials directly. Lao said the agency came into contact with company’s officials after discussions with Chinese Ambassador Haung Xilian, through Chief of Protocol Robert Borje. 

Lao said he personally met Sansure officials last May 21 and 23, who then tried to negotiate a sale through Omnibus. 

“But I made a…categorical express statement that we are no longer willing to discuss with Sansure if they go through Omnibus because they were given a chance before when the government really needed it, and they gave us a very high price and threw the ball to us that ‘You can only deal with us because were the exclusive distributor in the Philippines,’” Lao said. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque suggested there was basis for the NBI to probe the couple for profiteering under the Bayanihan Law and “special law on profiteering.”

Duterte agreed and likewise said to focus on legal aspects of the issue. The President also said that so far, he considered no government official to be involved in any irregularities. 

“The NBI has the probable cause, then go ahead…but I still believe in what accrues to government people working – the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties,” he said. 

Earlier in his speech, Duterte also cleared the purchase of supposedly overpriced personal protective equipment, saying he earlier ordered Duque to spare no expense in protecting health workers and responding to the pandemic. 

Duterte said he wanted a details of the probe on Omnibus shared with the public “in black and white with clear explanations” in “about 3 days.” – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.