This undated photo shows passengers at a public transportation wearing face masks and face shields, which had been made mandatory as a preventive measure against the COVID-19

The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The official who was in charge of the Department of Budget and Management’s procurement service when the pandemic began cannot explain why it was buying face masks and shields at prices up to five times higher than those purchased by the Philippine Red Cross. 

Lloyd Christopher Lao, who was officer-in-charge of the PS-DMB until he resigned in June 2020, admitted this at a Senate hearing Friday after being asked to explain why the department was purchasing face masks at a range of P16 to P27 per piece and face shields for P120 per piece under his watch. 

But within that same period of time, the PRC was buying face masks for P5 per piece and face shields for P20 per piece. This was confirmed by Sen. Richard Gordon, who is chairman of both the PRC and the Blue Ribbon Committee, at an earlier installment of the same hearing on the “deficiencies” flagged by state auditors in the spending of pandemic funds. 

“I cannot explain that…Maybe Red Cross has a very good network,” Lao told senators. “Red Cross has wider access during that time compared to us.” 

Former PS-DMB OIC Lloyd Christopher Lao after being asked to explain why the PS-DBM was buying face masks for as high as P27.72 when the PH Red Cross was buying them for just P5: I cannot explain that…Maybe Red Cross has a very good network @PhilstarNews pic.twitter.com/DsjB7hDzmm

— Bella Perez-Rubio (@BellaPerezRubio) August 27, 2021

Lao gave this same explanation when asked why the PS-DBM was purchasing testing kits two to three times higher than those being purchased by the PRC. 

“It is also possible, Mr. Lao, that you were negligent,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who was questioning the former DMB official, replied. “I’m not saying you were but [there is a] possibility that you were negligent, that Red Cross was more circumspect and purchased [face masks] at P5 while government, because, perhaps…of negligence, bought it at five times more expensive.” 

“Maybe if there was a more diligent search, if there was a more diligent process, then we could have brought down the price of a P27 face mask and a P120 face shield,” he added. 

Lao explained that when PS-DBM was canvassing at the time, the price of face masks ranged from P28 to P40, and face shields ranged from P120 to P400. 

“When you say that there might be negligence or we were not able to exhaustively look for the cheapest supplier, there might be a possibility given that we lacked time, lacked the resources and the connections during that time,” he said. 

Although he tried to deny it at a hearing in the lower house, Lao’s profile on DBM’s website shows that before he took over the procurement service, he used to work as an undersecretary at the Office of the Special Presidential Assistant. Changing his tune, he admitted the same to senators on Friday.  

The aforementioned office was held by Christopher “Bong” Go, a longtime aid to President Rodrigo Duterte, until 2018 when he launched a successful bid for a seat in the Senate.  

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