The anomalous tale of the 2 Michaels

The anomalous tale of the 2 Michaels Featured

THIS is a cautionary tale of corruption in the highest levels of government spanning two administrations, BBM's and the Deegong's. The dramatis personae are two actors, possibly unrelated, strangers to each other but operate here in the Philippines with dubious credentials but well connected. Both are Chinese nationals with tentacles encompassing the bureaucracy, members of Congress, the Senate and key LGUs and men in uniform. They employ similar modus operandi, working with not-so-obscure Filipinos with sterling contacts, with skills to hobnob with branded names, shunning the limelight except for the customary photo-ops with decision makers, the right politicians and more importantly the relatives of those at the seat of power — Malacañang. These public snapshots are critical, perhaps as evidence of a sort of intimate relationship for the benefit of their principals in China, useful tools for extortion. The two Michaels, Yang and Ma, are both experts at leveraging these optics.

This column resuscitates one of the biggest anomalies in the past administration that entangled powerful people at the time of the country's biggest tragedy — the pandemic. Now, corruption has again reared its ugly head threatening this regime unless cut off.

Michael Yang

When Covid-19 struck in early 2020, government rushed in to introduce grandiose-sounding laws — the Bayanihan to Heal As One (and Two) — by granting the president emergency powers. These laws were altogether an appropriate and worthy response. But as always, the devil is in the details. It allowed the primary tools for corruption: negotiated bids on contrived tender failures and sleight-of-hand funds transfers — with leakages somewhere in between; employing obscure patsies "backed by the powerful."

The Senate saw its role and Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, latched into this gold mine of corruption issues that could sink the Duterte regime, and propelling him to reelection. Whatever the motivations, the Senate hearings ran on for months on end exposing the sordid side of the Deegong's watch. It did no good for his reelection, but Gordon did the right thing. As reported in my columns, the hearings disclosed instances of incompetence and criminal acts. To be fair, the Deegong has not been implicated directly, but it was unfortunate that Duterte in his naïveté elected to fight the Senate on its constitutionally mandated role. He admonished his cabinet against appearing before the blue ribbon, to refuse to cooperate and, if held in contempt and incarcerated, assured them of "ways to get them out." The Deegong bit more than he could chew. The Constitution is unequivocal on the Senate's prerogatives.

What came out of these hearings were a series of shocking testimonies proving that the undercapitalized (P625,000 paid-up) Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. (Pharmally) bagged P8.68 billion in government contracts with a zero track record. The paper trail led to financial transactions that indicated the Chinese perpetrators, along with their local business partners and bureaucrats, may also have been conduits of drug money laundered through these transactions. Heading this cabal was Duterte's "economic adviser" Michael Yang, a shadowy mainland Chinese figure known by many labels — consultant, facilitator, bagman, pagador, or locally, bugaw (pimp), depending on the package offered and bought.

Timeline and rogues' gallery

– August 2019 — Christopher Lao, an obscure lawyer, allegedly Sen. Bong Go's stooge (SBG denied this vehemently) was appointed undersecretary at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

– Jan. 2, 2020 — Undersecretary Lao is transferred to the DBM Procurement Service (PS-DBM). (Secretary Windel Avisado, castrated, resigned as DBM head.)

– March 16, 2020 — The Government Procurement Policy Board released a resolution incorporating face masks and PPE into common use supplies.

– March 27, 2020 — The Department of Health started transferring funds to the PS-DBM, presumably illegally.

– April 16 and 20, 2020 — PS-DBM under Lao, bought overpriced surgical masks from various suppliers.

– April 2020 to June 2020 — Lao awarded to undercapitalized Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. contracts worth P6 billion plus; the contracts that PS-BDM awarded to Pharmally reached more than P8.7 billion as a result.

– June 2021 — Lao resigns. Offices of favored companies closed — addresses unknown.

Michael Yang got away scot-free. He is probably back in China, enjoying his millions.

Michael Ma

Last January 23, the House Committee on Ways and Means started a hearing on the anomalous skyrocketing prices of onions which was blamed, among other things, on the smuggling of the same from China. Rep. Horacio Suansing, Jr. of the second district of Sultan Kudarat, summoned Bureau of Customs personnel and a couple of people to this hearing. What is noteworthy is the participation of another Chinese, a certain Michael Ma. Apparently, his company First Tech Machinery Philippines has been importing equipment for farmers' use since 2016. What is particularly curious is that this seemingly obscure Chinese man has for his business partner and company vice president, Martin Araneta — the first lady's younger brother. Nothing wrong with that. But it seems that the company now known as China Philippine Unified Enterprise Inc. (CPUE) has its former executive, a certain Franz Imperial, now an appointed undersecretary in the Office of President. Again, there is nothing wrong with that!

In the website of the CPUE are dozens of photos depicting Michael Ma in the company of BBM, the first lady and other dignitaries at Davos. Again, nothing wrong with that! Because of these photographs and the names of these important people coming out in the House committee investigation on smuggling and various nefarious acts, the first lady's name has been unfairly dragged in the muck. These innuendos are par for the course with the Marites in social media. But the continuation of the hearings scheduled for January 30 were suddenly canceled, with the acquiescence of the House Speaker, Martin Romualdez — the first cousin of BBM. Now, there is something wrong with that! How can one get at the truth without this hearing? A pall of suspicion in effect will be hanging over the heads of these powerful personalities, not least the sibling-in-law of BBM — and by inference his wife.

And a corollary to this which complicates matters is a newspaper report that a popular Philstar columnist, Ramon Tulfo, may have been sacked "...after posting on Facebook that Martin Araneta, LAM's younger brother, was allegedly involved in "smuggling onions in the piers." (Kit Tatad, The Manila Times, Feb. 3, 2023)

These insinuations of the first lady's involvement in any of these is not the raison d'etre of this article. I don't think she herself is corrupt. I have never met the first couple, and I'm sure they don't know me from Adam.

But the issue here is BBM's stand. "Now that I am the one in command, there should be no more corrupt practices. We will run after them (corrupt officials) ... Instead of directing themselves against the Marcoses only, I mean kung meron akong corrupt na kamag-anak, eh di lalabas ang pangalan niya, but not only us. Lahat," he said.

Fair enough! And this will redound ultimately to good governance and the rule of law that is supposed to differentiate him from his father, the Deegong and past presidents?

I believe you, Mr. President! Now the ball is in your court.


Read 472 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 February 2023 14:37
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