MANILA – Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said it was not the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) that offered procurement for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines once these become available.
Lopez made the statement after some senators expressed their concerns over coursing the Covid-19 vaccine procurement through PITC, an attached agency of DTI, due to the alleged “poor track record” of the state trading firm.
He said Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III told President Rodrigo Duterte that if the funding for Covid-19 vaccines will come from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), it will be a government corporation that will borrow the money from the state-owned banks.
“That is when and where PITC came into the picture; it will be made as a procuring agency,” Lopez told the Philippine News Agency on the sidelines of Make It Happen in the Philippines investment promotion launching Tuesday.
Covid vaccine fund and procurement
During the Cabinet meeting last Monday, Dominguez said the government has to raise PHP73.2 billion to purchase Covid-19 vaccines once these are available.
Among the sources of funds cited by the DOF chief are multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, where the government can borrow around PHP40 billion.
About PHP20 billion can be sourced from Landbank, DBP, and other government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC).
“(W)e will negotiate bilateral sources, depending on the source of (the) vaccine, around PHP13.2 billion,” Dominguez said. 
Further, Lopez said procurement service through PITC is almost the same with other procuring agencies.
The PITC is getting service fees ranging from 1 to 4 percent to cover the operations cost of the state trading firm, he added.
He said its attached agency does not get any budget, but contributes to the national coffer as 50 percent of its income is remitted to the national treasury while the remaining 50 percent is spent for operations.
Lopez added it is not only the PITC that can procure the vaccines but also the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS).
This was also the same point of lawmakers in the Upper House --appropriate a budget for the Department of Health (DOH) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and course the procurement through DBM-PS, as they were wary of the track record of the PITC.
Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon, and Ralph Recto were among the lawmakers that questioned the alleged “parked” government funds in PITC since the state trading firm has not yet delivered the items that were procured through them by different government agencies.
Among the undelivered transactions at PITC cited in the Senate include PHP5.4 billion with the Philippine Army, PHP3.5 billion with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, PHP3.3 billion with the Bureau of Fire Protection, and PHP3 billion with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, among others.
Drilon said government agencies may be using the PITC to avoid returning the unspent funds to the national treasury.
Delays in TORs
Lopez said the delays in transactions are in the slow processing of terms of reference (TORs), which the respective agencies are responsible for.
“What is clear is, those projects that are said to be ‘parked’ are all ongoing projects. The TORs of which are being finalized, that’s why these are active accounts. And PITC don’t use those funds. It is in an account that just meant for that procurement,” he said.
Lopez said the PITC also made reforms including returning the fund to the Treasury after a series of failed biddings for a maximum of two years.
“The reason why it’s bidding now (is) because these are active accounts that are in different stages of TOR preparation and finalization. These are active. PITC does not manage these funds. There’s no issue at all,” the DTI chief added.
In a statement Wednesday, PITC president and chief executive officer Dave Almanirez said there was no basis the agency is unworthy to be the government’s procuring arm for the Covid-19 vaccines.
“We should not be seen as a threat or hindrance to the vaccination program because we don’t even have the power to choose which vaccine to buy. We are not involved in any way in the decision-making process. All policy recommendations on the supply of Covid-19 vaccines will emanate from the newly-formed task force headed by former General Carlito Galvez, and of course, our President,” Almanirez said. (PNA)