DOH orders probe into bidding for H1N1 equipment

Posted at 11/09/09 5:59 PM

MANILA -  The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday ordered an investigation into the alleged "anomalous" procurement of machines to be used in laboratory tests by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) at the height of the A (H1N1) flu scare.

The order comes after the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said the DOH procured 3 units of real-time PCR machines, to be used for laboratory tests to check for the A (H1N1) virus, from an alleged ineligible bidder.

In a statement released Sunday, the TUCP asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the awarding of the bid for the machines to Roche Philippines Inc..

The TUCP said Roche, "an entity effectively owned by Swiss nationals, had offered to supply the machines at a price nearly 25 percent costlier than the lowest bidder, Macare Medicals Inc., " which, it said, is a "wholly Filipino-owned firm."

The group contests that the bid was anomalous, since the law states that only firms of at least 60% Filipino ownership may bid for the supply of goods to the government.

"We are dumbfounded at the brazenness with which the DOH carried out the supposed open and competitive public bidding for the machines, only to later negotiate with the losing and highest bidder that is not even eligible to supply goods to the government," TUCP secretary-general, former Senator Ernesto Herrera, was quoted as saying.

Herrera said in the statement that the TUCP supported "in principle" the DOH’s decision to acquire the machines, but said they do not want "the menace posed by the A(H1N1) virus to be used as a pretext to circumvent existing procurement rules meant to ensure transparency and fairness, discourage malfeasance and safeguard public funds."

According to the TUCP, Macare offered the lowest price for the machines at P2.4-M per unit, while Roche offered the next lowest price at P2.955-M per unit. However, the agency selected the Roche bid, and allegedly allowed the company to supply 4 machines, instead of just 3.

Investigation to spare no one, says Duque

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said they know about the RITM's procurement, but said the research institute has a different procurement entity.

Duque said that they will not hide anything in their investigation on the matter, and added that anyone who will be found liable will face harsh consequences, which could include dismissal.

The DOH's Integrity Development Committee (IDC) is currently checking if the RITM violated any part of the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Under the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act, only those "duly organized under the laws of the Philippines, and which at least 60 percent of the outstanding capital stocks belong to citizens of the Philippines, shall be eligible to participate in the bidding of supply of goods."

The IDC will also investigate if there were price negotiations between the RITM and the winning bidder after the bidding process.

"Before the DOH decided to acquire the four machines, only four laboratories in the country had been performing A(H1N1) testing – the DOH’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City, The Medical City in Pasig City, the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City," the TUCP statement said.

"All four laboratories are using the Qiagen Rotor Gene Q Real-Time PCR Machine distributed by Macare. None of them are using or have used Roche’s Light Cycler 480 Real-Time PCR Machine," the group added.

According to the TUCP, the latest filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Roche is "effectively entirely foreign-owned." -- With a report from Sol Aragones, ABS-CBN News