A Russian novelist wrote that nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it. If this were the case, then the smell of rotten fish would surely evoke memories of how a small startup, Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., with the help of a presidential friend, bagged more than P8 billion in lucrative government contracts for medical supplies for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But of course, we have more than just the foul smell to guide us.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation that the President is so eager to discredit and shut down has already unearthed a number of anomalies.
The biggest, of course, is how a company with less than P1 million in paid-up capital and with no track record whatsoever, bagged more than P8 billion in government contracts through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
The purchase of face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment (PPE), records show, were overpriced even by 2020 standards at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As tens of thousands of poor Filipinos crowded unsafely into distribution centers for the measly cash assistance doled out by the government during a lockdown, the well-connected executives of Pharmally were feeding at a golden trough that enabled them to buy luxury vehicles—several Porsches, a Lamborghini sports utility vehicle, and a Lexus coupe—in time for Christmas that year.
Another disturbing revelation this week is that the government bought COVID-19 test kits from Pharmally that were near their expiry date, paying in full for products that were due to expire in six months. This was in clear violation of a PS-DBM policy that required that all testing kits be fresh stock with a shelf life of 24 to 36 months.
Industry insiders note that test kits with 12 to 18 months of shelf life should have been discounted at 10 percent to 15 percent, while those with a shelf life of six to 12 months should have been discounted at 15 percent to 25 percent. If the products were to expire in less than six months, the discount should have been 30 percent or more.
Given the test kits sold by Pharmally were only six months away from expiring, they should have been bought at a 25-percent discount. By paying full price, the PS-DBM paid P1.25 billion more than it needed to, to the disadvantage of Filipino taxpayers.
Instead of addressing these disturbing details, the President has opted to launch personal attacks on the senators leading the investigation. An allied congressman has even tried to discredit the Senate hearings, saying they are politically motivated by the elections next year.
None of this is relevant, however. The anomalies are there, regardless of who exposed them or why they did. The government needs to address these issues head-on, not divert public attention with ridiculous attacks and character assassination.
Given the Filipino penchant for portmanteaus, the mess that the Senate has uncovered might be called a “pharmanomaly”—and no amount of bluster and counter-attacks from the Palace can remove the stench of corruption that emanates from all those involved in this sordid deal.