National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the government responded with a sense of urgency at the start of the pandemic last year, as the national government procured coronavirus response supplies, including personal protective equipment for medical workers.
“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 PPE pero ang mga namamatay, parami nang parami (We don’t have face masks, test kits, PPE but more are dying). 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 PHP1,700, was 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 the time, would only meet the requirements of Covid referral hospitals.
However, Galvez said the number of hospitals across the country requesting for PPE continued to increase on a daily basis.
“During March and April (2020), nagmamakaawa ‘yung mga ospital dahil wala silang PPE. Walang magamit ang kanilang mga healthcare workers (The hospitals were begging for PPE. Their healthcare workers had nothing to use),” he said.
“With the help of Senator Pia Cayetano, we were able to get the number of PPE 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.
Based on the initial evaluation of the capacities of NTF member-agencies, including the Department of Health (DOH), which did not have the manpower to purchase a huge volume of PPE as more than half of its assigned personnel were infected with Covid-19.
Galvez said 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), convened to ensure that the national government would be able to secure the PPE.
“We looked at domestic production, pero mahina (but it’s minimal). 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 PPE,” he said
“Kaya we asked PS-DBM to look for supplies. First, an initial 3 million sets then 6 million or even 10 million sets,” Galvez added.
Lives at stake
When the DBM’s procurement service found a supplier from China that had the capacity to meet the bulk requirement for PPE, 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 (The procurement plan was the whole NTF and IATF. It was a collective decision because we saw the urgency. Had we not done it, more would have died),” Galvez said.
Galvez said no other company can produce in a few days medical grade PPE.
“That’s why 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 Sec. Vince Dizon added 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.
Galvez said the PPE underwent emergency procurement and the payment was processed “judiciously” in observance of existing laws such as Republic Act 9184 and relevant Government Procurement Policy Board issuances in line with RA 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The prices of PPE procured by the national government during the pandemic were significantly lower than those purchased by the past administration prior to the health crisis sometime between 2015 and 2016, he added.
The PPE at that time cost PHP3,500 and PHP3,864 per set.
“Nag-research din po kami. ‘Yung PHP1,700 na presyo during this pandemic kung saan kulang na kulang ang supply, kung titignan natin ay napakababa pa. Kulang pa sa kalahati. Kaya napakababa na ng pricing na ito (We did our research. The PHP1,700 price during this pandemic, at a time when supply is limited, when we look at it, is still cheaper, less than half. These are actually lower priced),” he said.
Galvez 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 (I hope there is no presumption of guilt so that we can see and determine where we lacked),” Galvez said.
“The NTF and the IATF are willing to listen sa aming mga pagkukulang para amin itong mai-correct (We are willing to listen so that we can correct our mistakes and improve on what we lack). We are in a pandemic and we are asking for unity. We cannot fight this Covid when we are divided,” he added.