The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its attached agencies are pushing for the approval of the Pandemic Protection Act in the next Congress in a bid to strengthen the stockpiling of critical health products such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We are really hoping that for this next Congress, we could push the pandemic protection act, that includes among others yung stockpiling by the government,” said DTI Undersecretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Group Ceferino Rodolfo during a news briefing on Friday.
Rodolfo, who’s also the Managing Head of DTI’s Board of Investments (BOI), also recognized Taiwan’s stockpiling system, wherein they store critical supplies and adopt the first in, first out (FIFO) system.
Sen. Sonny Angara in the 18th Congress introduced senate Bill No. 2311 or the Pandemic Protection Act.
The bill was driven by the economic infirmities revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the Philippines’s lack of capacity to produce certain products domestically. As stated in the Senate Bill, the country faced serious supply shortages of critical products such PPE, extraction kits, and other equipment needed to process test results.
“As global demand for such products skyrocketed because of the pandemic, many countries implemented export bans and prioritized building up their own reserves and stockpiles. This in turn imposed heavy burdens on the pandemic responses of countries like the Philippines who rely on imports and were without a domestic supply base for these products,” read SBN 2311.
For her part, Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (Conwep) Executive Director Maritess Jocson-Agoncillo said, “Actually that’s a priority and we actually put that in the AmCham (American Chamber) legislative agenda, the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) and we have articulated it to some of the incoming senators.”
“Now we want to push for the Pandemic Protection Act and we really need the DTI to really enforce that stockpiling program, it is in that pandemic protection act I hope it gets passed on the first round, with the incoming Congress,” added Jocson-Agoncillo.
At the height of the pandemic, BOI had to tap the private sector to seek help in terms of gathering resources such as the badly needed PPE for key government hospitals. Early donors, for instance, Aboitiz Foundation, helped by providing medical-grade N95 masks.
The BOI also extended its appreciation to its partners for the Repurposing Manufacturing Initiative, which enabled them to support local manufacturers in producing critical/essential products and services.
For the repurposing project, BOI worked closely with the Coalition of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (CPMP). According to Jocson-Agoncillo, “The Partnership prioritized the safety of our health-care frontliners, focusing on the importance of providing medical-grade PPE at the height of the pandemic when its exporters were called upon to repurpose last March 2020.”
However, the BOI had to shed light on the issue wherein they allegedly distributed the donated protective gear products to the intended recipients on a later date based on a Commission on Audit (COA) report.
Undersecretary Rodolfo said, “We are talking about products here that are meant to protect our health workers so when we received packages as a protocol, the BOI had to do proper checking and evaluation of the protective health gear products, including its location of origination as well as its quality.”
Further, Rodolfo said, “There was no intention to hold or stockpile the donations. We have to understand also that the BOI, with the intention of acting based on prudence and compliance with relevant laws, rules, and regulations, conducted due diligence first to ensure that everything is in order.”
In a Joint Declaration Form between China’s Bureau of Customs and the Philippine BOI, the Chinese BOC asked the BOI to confirm that the products complied with the quality standards of China or the receiving country, in this case, the Philippines. However, the BOI could not take the appropriate action since it did not comply with the standards.
The BOI said that it could not sign the said document but the goods still arrived and were delivered on April 26, 2021.
Meanwhile, on the allegation that the distribution “could have saved lives of some doctors, nurses, frontliners…” the BOI emphasized that the Customs document clearly stated that the said masks were non-medical.
The BOI highlighted that it exercises due diligence to make sure that the PPE for donation will truly protect the frontliners. BOI always emphasized the importance of making sure only medical-grade PPEs are distributed to the hospitals even as it took the lead in critical partnerships with local donors such as SM Foundation Inc., San Miguel Foundation, Zuellig Family Foundation, Zuellig Pharma Corp., Procter & Gamble, among others, Rodolfo said.
Through the hospitals’ lens, The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) attested to its partnership with BOI, saying that the agency initiated early moves during the pandemic to meet the demand. PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi pointed out that the benefits from the PPE program of the DTI and BOI were felt not only by the frontline health-care workers but also by manufacturers whose operations were affected amid the pandemic.
“Aside from availability problems, the challenge of high costs limited the ability of PGH to sustain its inventory to an ideal and safe level. Funding the PPE manufacturing from DTI-BOI was partially solved when DTI invited big corporations to invest in its endeavor and make manufacturing sustainable. It allowed these companies to keep their labor forces busy, be creative and adaptive, and also have some cash flow coming in despite the lockdowns. Local manufacturers gave the foreign PPE distributors a good competition,” Dr. Legaspi, said in news a statement.
Image credits: Patrick Roque via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0