"This is the latest in the continuing corruption scandal."
First, there was alleged overpricing in the procurement by government of P8.7 billion worth of COVID-19 supplies from an obscure company with a puny P625,000 paid-in capital.
Now, it appears that's not the end of it. The latest development in this continuing corruption scandal is that COVID-19 test kits from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. worth P550 million—or more than half a billion pesos—have been rendered useless as they have gone past their expiry dates.
We don't know at this point who should be held responsible for the P550 million in taxpayer's money going down the drain and a huge stash of useless test kits rotting in some warehouse while COVID-19 cases take a seemingly inexorable northward course and wreak havoc on the lives of Filipinos.
Was it the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Department of Health that negotiated the overpriced supplies, on the one hand, or the favored Pharmally that agreed to the deal and said to have pocketed hundreds of millions of pesos from the scam?
We don't really know at this point, as the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has yet to finish its investigation.
But Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of the committee, has pointed out that the government may have wasted public funds in paying for close to 400,000 COVID-19 reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits that have now expired.
“This is like we are burning cash amid the many deaths,” the lawmaker said in sheer disgust.
Two joint inspection and evaluation reports by the PS-DBM showed that Pharmally delivered 4,800 test packs on May 2, 2020, and 3,200 more two days later, enough to test up to 400,000 people. The inspection reports indicated that the test kits had an April 5, 2020, date of manufacture and an expiry date of Oct. 5, 2020, or just six months.
“Contrary to the technical specifications required by the DOH, Pharmally delivered a total of P5 billion worth of testing kits from May to September with a shelf life of six to 10 months,” he explained. Aside from the expired test kits, the PS-DBM also bought kits that were nearing expiry, which may have also been overpriced, he said.
Citing information provided by industry insiders, Pangilinan said test kits that had 12-18 months of remaining shelf life should have been discounted by at least 10-15 percent and by 15-25 percent for those set to expire within six to 12 months. If the shelf life is less than six months, the discount should be about 30 percent or more. With a roughly 25-percent discount, the government would have saved an additional P1.25 billion, which could have been used to buy additional testing kits, the senator claimed.
But that's not all. Sen. Risa Hontiveros has also disclosed that amid the controversies involving the PS-DBM and Pharmally, they still have pending contracts to supply the Health Department with personal protective equipment (PPEs).
Will the DOH accept these allegedly overpriced PPEs? Your guess is as good as ours.
Pushback vs. State repression
What were the top brass of the Department of National Defense (DND) thinking when they decided months back to unilaterally terminate the agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP) prohibiting military and police presence inside its campuses without prior notice?
Our guess is that, drawing from no less than the previous statements of Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed by Time magazine as "The Punisher," directing security forces to show no mercy to so-called troublemakers and "shoot them dead," or just "kill, kill, kill" suspected drug traffickers, then they can just follow the leader and take equally stern measures against militant students and faculty, including deploying police and soldiers in the campus to quell any protest action.
But the DND and AFP appear to have overestimated their own capability to instill fear in the academe with the threat of a crackdown on dissent and critical views on the part of students and faculty.
One indication that even the House of Representatives that's already dominated by pro-administration members isn't keen at all on taking the authoritarian path is its unanimous approval of House Bill No. 10171 that seeks to make the 1989 DND-UP Accord part of the UP Charter. The measure was approved with 179 affirmative votes, without negative votes and abstention.
Under the 1989 Accord, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and other law enforcement agencies are barred from entering the premises of any UP campus or regional units, except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions or emergencies.
The PNP, AFP, and other law enforcement agencies intending to conduct operations in any UP campus should also notify the campus president, the chancellor, or the dean prior to entering the campus.
Any law enforcement agencies are also forbidden from interfering with peaceful protest actions by individuals and groups within UP campus premises.
The Defense department had claimed that the accord with UP had been an obstacle to operations aimed at keeping students from being recruited as NPA rebels.
But lawmakers across party lines should be commended for pushing back against the DND's brazen attack on academic freedom. It's a clear victory for pro-democracy forces in the academe, to be sure, but until when?