"Only a credible investigation will settle this corruption issue that is a painful betrayal of public trust."
Disappointment, frustration, and rage are probably mild descriptions of what I am—and I am sure many Filipinos are—feeling after the developing exposés of the past few weeks.
It started with the Commission on Audit report that the Department of Health was not compliant with government standards in the dispatch of some P67 billion funds for addressing the COVID 19 pandemic. This was followed by the thickening plot of overpriced pandemic supplies worth about P8.7 billion purchased from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, a questionable company that has been linked to the ex-Presidential economic adviser Michael Yang.
Solving corruption and the drug problem were the trumpeted campaign promises of the President. He himself has admitted in public that he cannot deliver on these promises, but these continue to be part of his narrative when he regularly puffs off invectives in his late night shows. He has been projecting a strong and uncompromising stance whenever he rattles out the names of government employees kicked out from the service for corruption offenses and repeatedly warns everybody to stay clean -- or else. Duterte has also encouraged the public to not be afraid and to come forward to report corrupt practices they encounter.
But in the case of the government’s biggest pandemic supplier now accused of overpricing and the DOH’s audit discrepancies where billions of Bayanihan funds have been spent, Mr. Duterte has taken the stance of a defender—and some might say even a protector—of what should instead be a serious cause for an independent and publicly transparent investigation. What is at stake here is the integrity of his administration.
The recent Senate hearings revealed the clear ties between President Duterte’s friend Michael Yang and his fraternity brother, lawyer Lloyd Christopher Lao, whom he appointed as head of the Procurement Service-Department of the Department of Budget Management (PS-DBM). Apparently, as PS-DBM head, Lao procured the allegedly overpriced PPEs from Yang’s Pharmally. Senators have pointed out this irregularity, questioning the legal basis of the DOH to transfer the funds and relegate the procurement of the PPEs to PS-DBM. Indeed, why did DOH, which has its own Bids and Awards Committee and which is supposed to be in the better position to determine the specifications and quality of the PPEs, relegate the procurement of these specialized items to another agency?
Further probes on Pharmally showed that it was a newly organized company (eight months) with only P625,000 capitalization. During a Senate hearing, Senator Frank Dilon pointed out that in April, Pharmally was awarded by the PS-DBM surgical mask orders priced in batches at P22.50, P27.72 and P22. These prices are substantially higher than awards given to other suppliers at the same time and of the same items priced at P13, P16 and P17.
A more recent statement by Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed that the CEO of Pharmally and the Chairman of Pharmally International Holding Co. Ltd. are wanted for financial crimes in Taiwan.
So what we have here is an undercapitalized company, with no track record, in a false address, with officers that are fugitives hiding from Taiwan authorities, awarded an P8.7 billion supply deal involving two friends of the President.
It’s basic to any entrepreneur. Reducing the procurement cost of supplies and services needed in operations is vital to the viability of the business and warrants due diligence to determine the credibility and ensure the quality and reliability of products and services. It’s unbelievable that this routine process of procurement was innocently overlooked or neglected because they were being rushed. This is unacceptable because it’s so easy to go online and make a few calls to check these things.
The response from the President has been consistent with their playbook: Crass language, counter-accusations, and incoherent loquaciousness. These may be entertaining to some, but I feel these will no longer fool the public or appease the growing antipathy as the country continues to suffer the daily hard realities of the pandemic and a depressed economy. Only a credible investigation will settle this corruption issue that is a painful betrayal of public trust.
The arrogance, impunity, and greed to commit this plunder against the people is unthinkable to us ordinary citizens working hard to make a decent living for our families. The insatiably corrupt who are backed by the powers-that-be feel they can get away with it. We have to prove them wrong.