Senators filed a resolution Friday seeking for a special audit on all government spending related to its response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469).

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Finance Committee Chair Sonny Angara, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and minority Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Leila de Lima signed Senate Resolution No. 479 authored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

“Hindi dapat pinagkakakitaan ang Covid-19 crisis,” Hontiveros said in a statement after filing the resolution.

“Congress early this year, through the Bayanihan Act, gave the government comprehensive powers, including the power to re-align and allocate billions of taxpayers’ money to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Kailangan nating malaman kung ang tulong ba ay napunta para sa dapat tulungan,” she added.

Republic Act No. 11469 gave President Rodrigo Duterte powers to “reallocate, realign, and reprogram” almost ₱275 billion from the estimated ₱438 billion of the 2020 national budget for use in response to the pandemic.  It also allowed government to swiftly procure commodities, facilities, utilities and services deemed necessary for Covid-19 response with exemptions from the requirements of bidding as laid out in the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184).

The opposition senator said, however, that various procurement made in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic have been marred by allegations of overpricing.

Hontiveros’ resolution cited the government purchase of automated nucleic acid extractors for PhP 4 million against PhP 1.75 million purchased by the private sector, personal protective equipment [PPE] sets of PhP 1,800 when the market price ranges from PhP 400 to PhP 1,000, and the importation of more expensive RT-PCR test kits from China and Korea while cheaper Philippine-made ones are gathering dust in laboratories.

It also mentioned the purchase of allegedly overpriced PPE by the Procurement Services of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) ‘while many health workers and frontliners have fallen ill from the lack of adequate protective gear.’

“Sapat ba ang naging pondo para sa mga PPE? At kung sapat, bakit parang hindi napunta sa mga frontliners?” Hontiveros asked. “This health crisis should not allow us to relax our accountability measures. The people should be able to trust the government that no one is lining their pockets with taxpayers’ money,” she added.

The resolution urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to present its findings before Congress which is set to deliberate on the proposed 2021 budget.

“We are anticipating massive allocations to address health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19. It is of critical importance that there be audit findings to guide legislators in our exercise of the power of the purse,” Hontiveros said.

The Senate, on Thursday, passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1564 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” (Bayanihan 2) a day after President Rodrigo Duterte called for its passing during his 5th State of the Nation Address.

Bayanihan 2 provides a total of P10 billion for the procurement of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and extraction kits.

22 senators voted to pass the bill with only one negative vote, that of Sen. Francis Pangilinan. (Rommel F. Lopez)

READ: Senate passes Bayanihan 2, Pangilinan lone ‘No’ vote