A SENATOR on Tuesday accused the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of favoring Chinese companies in the purchase of P9.2 billion in mostly overpriced personal protective equipment amid a coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel noted that of the 11 contracts, seven were awarded to five Chinese contractors worth P5.2 billion. Two of the Chinese companies were awarded two contracts each.

“We have so many questions for the DBM, and again, we do need answers to better inform our budget deliberations in the Senate,” she said.

“Our office operates with utmost transparency and we have cooperated for any request of inquiry,” the Budget department’s Procurement Service said in an e-mailed statement. “We are distressed as this issue of PPE procurement has become political in nature. Our interest is transparency and not politics.”

The office said it had asked Ms. Baraquel to give it a copy of the basis of her overpricing findings. “This is so we can validate her allegations. We have yet to receive a reply.”

Four local companies were awarded contracts worth P4 billion, according to a table provided by the lawmaker posted on the Senate website.

Ms. Baraquel also said the protective equipment had been overpriced.

“We need to start the audit of COVID-19 funds, not just the questionable personal protective equipment here but government spending as well,” she said in Filipino.

Ms. Baraquel said a local contractor had managed to procure 30,000 units at P1,700 each, lower than the P1,900 per unit charged by the other contracts. 

She cited circulars issued by the Health department that froze prices between March 23 and April 13, which meant these items should have cost only P945.

Three of the 11 contracts were signed during the Department of Health’s (DoH) price freeze period, she added.

“DBM opted to transact with Chinese firms,” Ms. Baraquel said, adding that P1 billion in overpricing was “highly conservative.”

Also on Tuesday, DoH reported 2,025 coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 309,303.

The death toll rose by 68 to 5,448, while recoveries increased by 290 to 252,930, it said in a bulletin.

There were 50,925 active cases, 86.5% of which were mild, 8.8% did not show symptoms, 1.4% were severe and 3.3% were critical.

Of the new cases, 628 came from Metro Manila, 279 from Cavite, 218 from Negros Occidental, 108 from Laguna and 102 from Bulacan.

Metro Manila had the highest number of deaths with 26, followed by Western Visayas with 13, the Calabarzon region with seven, Central Luzon with six, and the Bicol region and Zamboanga Peninsula with three each.

Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Soccsksargen, and Mimaropa reported two deaths each while the Davao region and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) reported one death each.

More than 3.46 million individuals have been tested for the disease, the agency said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas