TURNING POINT: The Ties that Bind, a Whiff no More

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 27 September) – The Commission on Audit (COA) noticed a whiff of something in its examination of the management of the pandemic funds in the hands of the Department of Health (DOH). It simply described but gave no name to it.

The whiff wafted to and got the attention of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, which started locating its source and digging to know what the faint smell is all about. When uncovered, the whiff turned out a horrendous, offensive, suffocating stink of corruption of incomparable magnitude in the history of this blighted country.

The corruption here is the classic abuse in the use of power and authority, which undermines check and balance in good governance, to the great detriment of the government and the people. The abuse was manifested in the transfer of P42 billion from the DOH to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to facilitate the purchase of medical supplies and equipment and the consequent awarding to a newly-formed company with negligible capital, supply contracts worth billions of pesos in a short span of time.

The favored company, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., that continued to deliver expired, tampered and worn out supplies and equipment to the DOH via PS-DBM up to the midst of 2021 had link to Michael Yang, former Chinese economic adviser of President Duterte. Michael Yang loaned undisclosed amounts to Pharmally and served as guarantor to Chinese suppliers so as to sustain the company’s business with its lone client – the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Yang is a friend of Huang Tzu Yen, president and chairman of Pharmally Pharmaceutical. Linconn Ong, on the other hand, is director of the company who once served as translator of Michael Yang when he was economic adviser to the President. Whereas, Mohit Dargani, the company’s corporate secretary/treasurer, was special assistant in the office of Michael Yang also at the time that Yang served as economic adviser to President Duterte.

Duterte, making the pandemic as an excuse in short-circuiting the legal system of government operation, admitted he ordered DOH Secretary Duque to transfer the P42 billion to PS-DBM. Former DBM Undersecretary Christopher Lao appeared to have made the decisions of awarding billions worth of supply contracts to Pharmally.  Considering the huge amount and the gargantuan responsibility, it is unlikely that he did it in his own volition without the blessing of someone on top. Lao was a fair-haired boy in the president’s trusted circle from Davao. Once a member of the Duterte presidential campaign team in 2016, he soon became undersecretary at the Presidential Management Staff–Office of the Special Assistant to the President, then headed by now-Senator Bong Go, the omnipresent shadow of PRRD.

Considering the overarching relationship and ties, it’s understandable that the godfather could not or would not sniff a whiff of corruption, however offensive it may already have become.

Meanwhile, if  the executives of Pharmally were able to  rake in millions  to enable them to buy luxury cars in less than a year of transacting business with the government, we could only wonder how much their counterparts in government have brazenly siphoned to their respective treasury.

Those involved in the DOH-PS-DBM anomaly looted without qualms the war chest of the government  intended against the raging pandemic. The money could have been used to improve the plight of medical frontliners –given as incentives and hazard pays to them and “ayuda” (assistance) to poor hungry families in lockdown communities. What was looted could have saved more lives by expanding or building additional well-equipped healthcare facilities and in buying more vaccines and COVID-19 medicines.

The crime they have committed is graver than corruption. In the country’s present circumstances, it is treason.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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