FORMER Department of Budget and Management (DBM) undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao on Friday, August 20, 2021, said there was no irregularity in the transfer of P42 billion by the Department of Health (DOH) to his office for the procurement of face masks and face shields.

Lao, who headed the DBM-Procurement Services (PS), said in a televised press briefing Friday that the DOH sought his office’s assistance in the procurement of face masks and face shields.

The PS office’s main task is to procure common office supplies such as bond paper, ballpen, laptop and other office supplies. Lao said face masks and face shields are also considered common supply by the Government Procurement Policy Board because these are necessary for protection against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

“To ease the burden and to allow more access and avenues to procuring the said items kasi ang dami, almost everybody, all government agencies are in need of buying such items, and there is lack of supply, and through the reason of existing laws on how to procure. Medyo mabagal siya so we have to open up the avenues,” he said.

“Most agencies do not have a regular procurement process. They don't really procure items as part of their regular performance of their function. Like DOH, their main function is to provide health services. In order to not dilute the manpower, resources, and time of these agencies, a different agency is focused and performs functions for them... So you don't have to bid every month,” he added.

Lao said there is no need for the transfer of funds and the procurement of face masks and face shields to be covered by a memorandum of agreement as it was considered as common use.

He also denied that the face shields and face masks procured by his office for DOH were overpriced. He said the prices were high because of the high demand and low supply.

“During that time, P27 (per face mask) was one of the cheapest. During the start of the pandemic, it was around P30 to P40. Face shields at that time were being sold for P200 to P300 but one bidder gave it for P120. That was actually the cheapest at that time,” said Lao.

He said the prices dropped as supply increased. He assured that he could account for the funds.

The Senate blue ribbon committee is looking into DOH’s deficiencies in the use of Covid-19 response funds, which were flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA). The inquiry also delved into the alleged overpricing of face masks and face shields.

Meanwhile, Lao denied being a former aide of Senator Christopher Lawrence Go as claimed by former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Go earlier denied that Lao was connected to him.

“Ever since they have been always doing.. they tie you to a politician to make my job politicized...and to politicize this is very unfair. I am doing this for my own profession, to uplift my profession and personal growth,” he said.

Lao, who is a lawyer, was designated as the head of DBM-PS in August 2019. He resigned in June 2021.

Among the other government positions he held were chief executive officer and commissioner of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB); undersecretary of the Presidential Management Staff– Office of the Special Assistant to the President; an arbiter for Regional Field Office, HLURB– Southern Mindanao Region; and researcher, paralegal under a local government official who handles the Committee on Housing and Settlement and Ethics.

Lao said he applied for the overall deputy ombudsman position but withdrew his application to avoid speculations. He said he is planning to practice privately.

In May, Lao was also criticized after his office facilitated the procurement of a Covid-19 testing equipment which Senator Panfilo Lacson said could have been bought from another supplier at a much lower price. (SunStar Philippines)