MANILA, Philippines — Local makers of medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) are ready to invest an additional $36 million to increase capacity once they get more orders from the government.

In an online press conference yesterday, Coalition of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (CPMP) executive director Rosette Carillo said the group could increase its investments to repurpose facilities to produce PPE by another $36 million to increase capacity and for an additional employment of 4,000 workers.

CPMP, an affiliate of Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP), lists Medtecs International Corp. Ltd., EMS Components Assembly Inc., Reliance Producers Cooperative, Luen Thai International Group Philippines Inc. and Tacca Industries Pty Ltd. from Australia as members.

The five firms have so far made a combined investment of $35 million to repurpose facilities for the production of medical-grade PPE such as face masks and coveralls, and enabled 7,450 workers to keep their jobs following a call from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

CONWEP executive director Maritess Jocson – Agoncillo said the additional investments would double the current monthly production capacity of 57.6 million face masks and three million coveralls.

“CPMP has committed to the $36 million additionally once they get the base order of the Philippine government,” she said.

CPMP president Lawrence delos Santos said that while the group is ready to expand, the key challenge faced now is in terms of demand.

“The biggest demand or biggest customer for PPE is government at this point. There is a problem we are facing in the way government secures and procures PPE is not necessarily in sync with our production,” he said.

He said he is hopeful the group could discuss with the government, particularly with the DTI, Department of Health and the Department of Budget Management which handles government procurement, how to include in the purchase plans the capacities of local manufacturers.

At present, he said the government is getting 98 percent of its PPE requirements from overseas.

Of the 57.6 million face masks being produced by the group per month, eight to 10 million units go to the government, and the rest are exported.

For the coveralls, the group has not been able to sell to the government and their output is being sold to hospitals amid issues in government procurement.

Delos Santos said getting to supply for the government would help build the PPE manufacturing industry.

“We are quite new in this and therefore to do marketing and sales and then to do production, it’s a challenge to market both locally as well as for export market. So, an immediate demand let’s say from government helps us secure our capacity and our employment at least in the short and medium term,” he said.

As local manufacturers have secured all the necessary certification for production of medical grade PPE, he said the government could also be assured of the quality of the products being used by medical frontliners.

He said ensuring the quality of PPEs being used is important as there has been a high percentage of frontliners getting the virus.

“My question is why? Are they being provided the right and safe kind of PPEs that they deserve? We know we can provide that. What is being imported and bought, are we sure this is safe?,” he said.

He said it is hard to ascertain whether imported PPEs are of good quality and safe since no laboratory in the country is testing these products.