The Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) on Wednesday welcomed calls for hearings on allegations made by senators that it maintained idle funds on behalf of various government agencies in order to circumvent auditing and budgetary obligations.
In a statement, PITC President and Chief Executive Officer Dave Almarinez said there was no basis to accuse his firm as unworthy to be the government’s procurement arm in the acquisition of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines.
“We should not be seen as a threat or hindrance to the [government’s Covid-19] 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,” Almarinez said.
“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,” he added.
“We’d like to assure our esteemed lawmakers that we are not a valet service for obligated but unused funds of various government agencies. Neither do we operate a parking lot to gain commissions on the side.”
The statement came after Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto questioned the allegedly parked funds in the PITC, since the state-run trading firm is yet to deliver the items procured through it by different agencies.
The undelivered transactions cited include P5.4 billion with the Philippine Army, P3.5 billion with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, P3.3 billion with the Bureau of Fire Protection, and P3 billion with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Drilon said the agencies might be using the PITC to avoid returning the unspent funds to the Bureau of the Treasury.
Almarinez said the PITC had records showing that it had returned to the bureau all unutilized funds of client-agencies covering 2019 and prior years and fully liquidated funds used to procure goods and services during those years.
According to Almarinez, vaccines for Covid-19 are not in their current list of products to be negotiated and procured.
“While we would like to and are willing to help and lend our expertise, we have yet to be officially tapped to handle this service,” he said.
Having no role yet in the Covid-19 vaccination program, Almarinez said the PITC was surprised to hear lawmakers voicing misgivings about the agency.
“We are puzzled by the barrage of reports that, all of a sudden, seek to denigrate our institution as unworthy to be the government’s procurement arm of choice in relation to the Covid-19 vaccines,” he said.
According to him, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, as an active member of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and chairman of the PITC, would ensure that a fair price for good-quality vaccines would be secured to benefit many Filipinos.
The PITC president said his company had been mentioned in this matter as a potential borrower of funds from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines to defray the cost of procurement while following the national procurement law.
But he added that recent reports had quoted Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd as saying the government was seeking P73.2 billion, or roughly $1.52 billion, from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, state-run banks and bilateral sources to buy the vaccines.
The PITC is not privy to all these plans, according to Almarinez.
“The PITC has been around since 1973 and our personnel are known for their hard work and integrity. They are dedicated civil servants with unblemished records and we fully intend to keep it that way,” he said.
They would be happy to voluntarily submit all documents and cooperate in every way with the Senate to ensure that the PITC’s role in government procurement and trade negotiations are more clearly understood by the public and government decision-makers, he added. WITH A REPORT FROM PNA