Solon cites need for centralized procurement of essential medical supplies

A centralized procurement of essential medical supplies is needed for fighting the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) to ensure those who need these would get them, a House leader proposed on Wednesday.

Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo, vice chairperson of the House committee on Metro Manila development, urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Finance (DoF) to consider procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) items like suits or gowns, face shields and masks and other supplies such as alcohol and medicines, and distribute these to hospitals and patients at cost.

Castelo said the two departments could easily source these products from domestic and foreign producers.

Alternatively, Castelo said the government could designate a private group composed of businessmen already helping in the fight against COVID-19 to do the procurement on the same condition that it should obtain the best price and distribute the supplies at cost.

She lamented that despite government efforts to make supplies available and affordable, “prices continue to go up because donors, hospitals and even patients desperately needing them are engaged in a bidding war.”

“The DTI and the DoF should intervene to stop this practice. They should also go after hoarders, price manipulators, and unscrupulous importers and distributors who are making a killing at the expense of the sick and needy,” said Castelo.

She warned the authorities that unless the bidding war stops, only hospitals with sufficient resources and rich patients would get the PPE items and medicines they need.

The lawmaker said even basic medicines for flu-like symptoms that can lead to COVID-19 are running out of stock.

“I don’t want to imagine what would happen to poor patients and frontline health workers of hospitals with inadequate funds if they cannot buy the supplies and medicines they need,” she said.

Castelo pointed out that many doctors and nurses are forced to make do with cheap, improvised and locally made gowns and body shields that are reportedly not as safe as the imported products, which cost twice or more.

She reminded the DTI, the DOF and other government agencies that under the Bayanihan to Heal As One law, it is their responsibility to procure medical supplies and drugs “in the most expeditious manner” and to make these available and affordable to those who need them, especially poor patients.

They are also mandated to go after hoarders, profiteers and price manipulators, she said.

Meanwhile, House Assistant Majority Leader and ACT CIS party-list Rep. Niña Taduran called on the national government to give tax credit to middle income earners in the midst of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Taduran, a former broadcaster, said she believes that middle-income families need financial assistance at this time when they are forced to spend more, beyond their means.

“A lot of middle income families have also been badly hit by the slowdown in the economy and the work stoppage. They could be small businessmen or employed but their companies couldn’t sustain their operations,” said Taduran.

“I call on the government to extend financial assistance to middle income earners via a tax credit equivalent to the amount distributed to poor families under the social amelioration program,” Taduran stressed.

“Having to pay ₱5, 000 to ₱8, 000 less in taxes means ₱5, 000 to ₱8,000 more that they can use for their personal needs,” Taduran added.

While this may initially result to a loss of income to the government, the added purchasing power of the middle class will help stimulate the economy through the purchases they make, according to Taduran.

“Furthermore, this will not require additional budgetary expense on the part of the government,” Taduran ended.