UP Diliman Professors Share Scientists’ Procurement Struggles at Senate Hearing

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By Harvey Sapigao

College of Science (CS) Dean Giovanni Tapang held up a little white device as he finished his presentation. “This is a ₱150,000 component,” he described. “Isa lang gumagawa nito sa buong mundo, pero ang hirap pilitin sila na magregister sa PhilGEPS,” he continued, referring to the requirement that foreign companies must first register to the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) before they can sell products to local scientists.

Marine Science Institute (MSI) Deputy Director Dr. Irene Rodriguez explained that the small device is a resin that filters metals in water. “May budget tayo,” she said, “pero ang problema ko ay ‘yung resin na ito.”

This and other bottlenecks brought about by the procurement law, or the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184), slow down research and development in the country. UPD leaders were invited to the Senate hearing to discuss the proposed revision of the procurement law at the House of Representatives on February 21, 2024.

Aside from Dean Tapang and Dr. Rodriguez, among those present were CS Associate Dean Dr. Eizadora Yu, CS Associate Dean Dr. Deo Florence Onda, National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) Dean Dr. Kristoffer Berse, NCPAG Assistant Professor Herisadel Flores, and NCPAG Atty. Lawrence Villanueva.

The procurement law, enacted in 2003, is a set of rules and regulations for using government funds to acquire goods and services. Although meant to deter corruption and promote transparency, the law introduces numerous problems for researchers and scientists.

Among the problems is that products become exorbitantly priced which hinders research progress. Dean Berse said that when a product cannot be locally produced, foreign-sourced products can be bought through local suppliers. But this method increases and even doubles the products’ prices. “In the event that no local suppliers are interested,” he added, “this will result in the loss of access to the target equipment.”

When researchers fail to procure the necessary equipment, they cannot meet project objectives and need to realign budgets. This will “ultimately delay the dissemination of knowledge and information and in providing solutions to our country’s pressing problems,” Dean Berse said.

Moreover, the procurement law impacts the retention of local scientists. “Once frustrated, they leave [the country] for greener pastures,” Dean Tapang said.

The amended procurement law aims to solve these problems. The revised law, for example, would allow for direct sales and direct acquisition of products in certain circumstances, bypassing the slow bidding process. Under the new law, the sole supplier of resin needed for Dr. Rodriguez’s research would not need to undergo bidding.

UPD professors fully support the amendments to the procurement law. They also proposed further improvements and recommendations, such as on how to counteract “abnormally low bids” or bids that offer equipment and services at suspiciously low prices.

One of the authors of the revised law, Senator Sonny Angara,  stated that the law is already in its finalization stage and is expected to be finalized in the next two weeks.

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