Even before he took his oath as president, Rodrigo Duterte famously said that he would not tolerate even a whiff of corruption from government officials. He added he would not hesitate to fire such public servants even if they were his allies or appointees.
This statement resounded with many of us, who were tired of seeing our officials apply two sets of rules when it comes to irregularities in government: One for their political enemies, and one for their friends.
But more than four years hence, we have observed how the administration has responded unevenly and inconsistently to numerous whiffs that have come to the public’s attention.
While some erring officials were relieved from their posts, some of them were eventually just appointed to other positions as soon as the public’s attention has shifted to something else. Some were given the rare opportunity to just disappear from public view without the corresponding accountability for past misdeeds. Some are even outright defended and protected, even praised, much to the public’s outrage.
The recent revelations at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, however, are made ignominious in the context of the massive health crisis we are battling. Allegations of precious billions going to corruption, instead of for the relief of Filipinos, make us ask what kind of heartless beings would enrich themselves at the expense of others in dire need.
Prior to this, health officials have been under fire for their gross ineptitude in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and providing support to medical frontliners.
As a response, the Palace has asked the Department of Justice to form a task force with representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the President, and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. They will investigate the irregularities at PhilHealth, conduct lifestyle checks, and preventively suspend PhilHealth personnel believed to be involved in corrupt acts.
The task force has 30 days to do its job, on top of the regular jobs of these agencies in the affairs of government during these trying times.
We will watch closely how the task force would conduct itself, and ultimately, how the President would act on its recommendations.
One of the signs of being sick with COVID-19, we are told, is the loss of the sense of smell. If our leaders remain oblivious to an overpowering stench – not just a whiff of a foul odor – then they would have been afflicted with something as deadly and damaging as coronavirus, but for which there could never be neither cure nor vaccine.