An executive order should be issued to revert to the National Treasury the P33.4 billion in “sleeping funds” parked in the bank accounts of Philippine International Trading Corporation to buy COVID-19 vaccines for Filipinos, Senator Francis Pangilinan said Wednesday.
Senator Risa Hontiveros expressed alarm over the involvement of the PITC, an allegedly underperforming, little-known state firm where P33.4 billion allegedly had been parked to procure the vaccines.
But the PITC on Wednesday welcomed the calls to initiate public hearings on the Senate allegations that it maintains idle funds on behalf of various government agencies to circumvent auditing and budgetary obligations.
In a statement, PITC President and CEO Dave Almarinez said there was no basis to denigrate the agency as unworthy to be the government’s procurement arm in the acquisition of 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,” Almarinez said.
“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.”
Pangilinan said the budget law required that if funds were unused, the agencies should return them to the national coffers at the end of the year.
“And so, because we are in search of funds to purchase vaccines, an executive order that mandates the return of these funds to the National Treasury is well-within the powers of the executive,” Pangilinan said.
He also said that since the PITC was under the Department of Trade and Industry, it was in the realm of executive action to order the immediate return of the money.
“And because we are in search of funds to purchase vaccines, then an executive order that mandates the return of these funds to the National Treasury is well within the powers of the Executive,” Pangilinan said.
He was reacting to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s privilege speech on Tuesday calling on the Senate to compel the PITC to revert the amount to the national coffers. Drilon said the PITC was being used by government agencies to avoid returning unspent public funds.
An estimated P73.2 billion is needed to pay for the COVID-19 vaccinations of 60 million Filipinos.
With the amount, Pangilinan said, the government need not secure loans or, if still needed, did not have to apply for a huge amount of loans that could further plunge the Filipinos into indebtedness.
As of the end of August this year, the Philippine government’s outstanding debt stood at P9.615 trillion, and mainly due to the coronavirus crisis.
During Tuesday’s interpellation, Pangilinan also confirmed from Drilon that the P33.4 billion was in banks or in money market placements, appearing as assets of the PITC and earning billions in interest.
On Pangilinan’s questioning, Drilon also said that the money could have been sleeping with PITC for years.
“In effect, your CEO or whoever is in charge is like a glorified parking attendant rather than a trading expert because of all the money that is being parked,” Pangilinan said.
As to the plans to have the PITC undertake the COVID-19 vaccine procurement, Pangilinan said, the capacity of the corporation to deliver results was questionable.
“Why bring that much funds to purchase vaccines into an entity that has failed miserably in delivering in terms of purchasing or utilizing funds in the last 10 years?” he said.
Meanwhile. Hontiveros said she supported Drilon in his call to probe the PITC and the alleged parking of funds in it.