Every new word that President Duterte utters on the Pharmally mess just digs him deeper into a hole of his own making.
Last week, he ordered members of the executive department—including his Cabinet secretaries—to ignore summonses to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigating irregularities in his administration’s multi-billion-peso purchases of medical supplies in the middle of a pandemic.
The ostensible reason is that his officials were using up time to attend the hearings, when they should be at their jobs fighting the pandemic.
In his now-familiar manner, Duterte used bluster, anger and personal insults to make his actions seem justifiable—but we have all seen this show before and very few of us are fooled.
The facts are clear. Going against all established principles of good governance, the President appointed his volunteer election lawyer—out of a personal debt of gratitude–to a position that gave him access to billions in government funds.
As the chief of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), this official approved more than P8 billion in government contracts to buy what we now see as overpriced face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment, from an under-capitalized start-up, Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., whose main asset was that it had the backing of the President’s friend, a Chinese national who Mr. Duterte once appointed as his adviser on economic policy.
Testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has already uncovered several unsettling details of Pharmally’s operations—including an admission that they tampered with the manufacturing dates on face shields, presumably to measure up to government procurement standards.
We also learned that key executives of this company bought luxury vehicles for themselves after bagging the lucrative government accounts—hardly the action one would expect from stakeholders in a company that was woefully under-capitalized.
Given these circumstances, it would be a dereliction of duty for the Senate to ignore the red flags that have sprouted around the sweet deals that the government cut with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp.
Alumni from two of the country’s top universities have already spoken out against what they called the President’s unconstitutional order.
“President Duterte’s directive has created an unnecessary constitutional crisis in the middle of a pandemic that has wrought havoc on the lives of Filipinos,” one group from the University of the Philippines College of Law said. “The president must respect the constitutional exercise of power by a coequal branch of government.”
A group of Ateneo de Manila University alumni also issued a statement, saying Duterte should let the Senate “perform its constitutional oversight function” in investigating Pharmally.
To stand in the way of this investigation, as the President has done time and again, speaks, not of a principled objection to legislative overreach, but of a brazen attempt to cover up corruption in the government.
How did Mr. Duterte get from promising to fight corruption at the start of his term to becoming the obstructionist-in-chief in a key Senate investigation his last few months in office?