BY GENALYN D. KABILING
DISMAYED by the “greed” of some traders in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, President Duterte has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to “study very carefully” allegations that a local supplier was selling overpriced medical equipment in the country.
The President issued the directive after inquiring from the Cabinet about reports of a couple allegedly selling medical equipment at a higher price compared to other suppliers.
“NBI should study the matter very, very carefully,” Duterte said during in his remarks aired on state television about the reports of overpriced medical equipment sold in the country.
Duterte said the government would “act accordingly” and deal with the case in a legal manner.
He said the NBI may charge the person or entity if it has obtained probable cause that a crime was committed.
“Let’s look at it on what it is legally sans the maybe ‘yung mga suspicion…After all, it’s not easy to you know charge a person. I still believe in the…Well, if the NBI has the probable cause, then go ahead,” he said.
“But I still believe in the what accrues to – accruing to government people working, the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties,” he added.
Former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin recently urged the President to order a probe into a “very enterprising” couple reportedly linked to the overpricing of testing kits and machines in the country.
Garin said the couple allegedly made it hard for the private sector to access testing equipment and supplies unless they agree to buy the alleged overpriced products.
She further said the couple has alleged hoarded testing kits after being granted “exclusive distributorship” privilege by some state agencies.
Before issuing the order to the NBI, the President asked the officials present in the meeting if the reports about a certain couple selling overpriced equipment were true.
Duterte also said he was interested to know if there was graft and corruption or if “dirty money changed hands.”
“Let me ask you this very crucial question. I just want to be satisfied really. Ano itong sinasabi nilang mas mura doon at itong Co na mag-asawang – spouses Co are the dealers of itong iyang nabili ninyo at mahal? (What are these allegations that it is cheaper there and the Co couple are dealers of the equipment you bought at a high price?) Is there really a price difference there or haka-haka lang nila ‘yan? (or just speculation?)” he asked.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was among the officials present in the meeting with the President at the Malago clubhouse inside Malacañang Park, denied knowing the couple and asked if another government official might know them instead.
Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao came forward and identified the Co couple as the owners of Omnibus Bio-Medical Systems Inc., the exclusive distributor of Sansure medical equipment in the country. Lao, a lawyer, served as officer-in-charge of the Procurement Service, an attached agency of the DBM.
Lao informed the President that Omnibus offered to sell automated extractor machine to the government for P4.325 million but lost to a Hong Kong-based firm in the bidding.
Three other local suppliers also tried sell the same equipment at much higher price, he added.
“However, during the bid they did not win because a foreign corporation from Hong – Hong Kong-based, this is also an exclusive distributor of Sansure in Hong Kong, sold it to us, ‘yung mga kits. So natalo po sila sa bidding kaya hindi sila nanalo,” he said.
“But they are complaining why are we not respecting their exclusive distributorship,” he said.
When the Omnibus incident reached China-based Sansure company, Lao said its officials went to the country and offered to sell directly here. He said they met with Sansure officials last Friday at the Department of Budget and Management office.
He said Omnibus claimed it was willing to reduce the price of the medical equipment but he recommended to reject the company offer and go straight to the manufacturer.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque agreed that the Co couple should be investigated for alleged profiteering and hoarding after trying to “blackmail” the government into buying a medical product.
He said the country has laws against profiteering defined as “taking advantage of a national emergency.”
“This is very serious kasi nga the only source that we can get these PCR machineries and kit is from Sansure now and there was really almost an attempt to blackmail us into buying something very expensive,” Roque said in the same meeting.
After listening to the comments, the President said the government will “act accordingly” and promised to issue a statement on the matter this week.