The Chinese connection

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THE blue ribbon did live up to its billing. Some of the notorious dramatis personae involved in the questionable personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement deal showed up via Zoom occasioned by threats of Senate contempt and arrests.

Virtually present were the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. (PPC) executives and their padrino Michael Yang. This shadowy figure, not even a Filipino, was privileged an appointment as President Rodrigo "Deegong" Duterte's "economic adviser" and escorted the Pharmally International Holding (PIH) executives to Duterte in China in 2015 and in Davao in December 2017 - caught in a video clip that went viral. Such an escort service is known by many labels - consultant, facilitator, bagman, pagador or locally, as bugaw (pimp), depending on the package offered and bought. Those identified in the video were a veritable rogues' gallery: Huang Wen Lei (Tony Huang), his son and PPC Philippine subsidiary Director Huang Tzu Yen and Zhang Bingquiang, all wanted in Taiwan for financial crimes. The PIH's Philippine subsidiary cabal completes the Chinese connection - Linconn Ong, Huang Tzu Yen, Rose Lin and a host of Chinese names further obscured by aliases.

What came out in the hearing is a shocking possibility that the undercapitalized Pharmally that bagged P8.68 billion in government contracts with zero track record may have been a conduit of drug money laundered through these transactions. The Senate is now enlarging the hearings to include the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Bizarre theater or danse macabre

The blue ribbon committee hearing has established that with the acquiescence of Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao facilitated the allegedly irregular P42 billion (and more) PPE procurement, including the anomalous fund transfers from the Department of Health to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM). A well-placed lawyer within Duterte's circle - a presidential appointee to various sensitive government positions landing as DoH undersecretary and finally ensconced at the PS-DBM, Lao - reportedly a stooge of Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go who has denied it - is at the center of this maelstrom. At the hearings, he admitted that no due diligence was conducted on Pharmally, an absurdity that was ignominiously backed by Duterte's spokesperson, Harry Roque Jr. "Under the law we have a principle that a corporation has a separate personality, separate and distinct from the stockholders...there is no need to assess the personality behind the corporation because it's a separate personality." Negligently awarding billions to a practically "unknown company" and requiring only a casual background check on the incorporators and executives who turn out to be fugitives from justice - is simply irresponsible and may even be criminal.

The procurement was sanctioned under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that gave Duterte vast emergency powers - exempting the President from the Government Procurement Act - allowing emergency negotiated purchasing. Roque claims there was no overpricing since all countries were competing for PPE and prices are dictated by supply and demand, ignorantly oblivious of externalities and leakages distorting supply/demand dynamics. Documents disclosed local competitors delivered comparatively low prices - egregiously far below Pharmally's. But overpricing may no longer be an issue. It could have been ghost deliveries.

In all these, Malacañang was complicit, not simply naïve. This brings to mind how enamored our President is with China. God forbid, if China holds the Deegong by the balls and by inference, we Filipinos!


This massive procurement anomaly as played out is even made more onerous, against a backdrop of a global health catastrophe, when Filipinos are dying, where quarantine and lockdowns with no end in sight cause massive job losses; while functionaries in the highest levels of government cohabit with sleazy Chinese gangsters; in effect altogether sucking the lifeblood of our people. All these surfaced only because the blue ribbon unearthed some facts and at first some innuendoes pointing towards the Deegong through Secretary Duque, Senator Go and Undersecretray Lao. Former senator Serge Osmeña put it succinctly: "Duterte got caught...and ayaw niya mangyari is that they will be able to find out who these guys are...and who made money on [the deal]. Nagkakandarapa sila ngayon kasi huling-huli sila."

The President could have allowed the blue ribbon to go through the charade - as he once declared that these were merely senatorial grandstanding. "No recommendations; no lawsuits; nobody goes to jail. It's all just posturing," Duterte declared, conveniently skirting his own responsibility as the executive branch does the prosecution and incarceration. And a melodramatic brazen nonsequitur: "I, your President, you trusted me; you voted for me. I am the last person to fool you. When I am no longer president, kill me if I committed mistakes or told you lies."

And the President's men, Duque, together with one of the Christophers - law fraternity brother Lao, not the surrogate son Go - could have been sacrificed as pawns to sanitize the presidency. Connecting the dots could lead inevitably to Malacañang and the ever-loyal Bong Go was at its gates to "fall on his sword." Not anymore, saved by the PDP-Laban elevating him to an eminence grise - a presidentiable! The election circus coming to town with various permutations –-Go-Duterte, Sara-Go, Sara-Duterte, ad infinitum - could have been employed as diversionary tactics blowing all these away. But Duterte may have miscalculated and panicked. What could have been just a pissing contest between the Deegong and the Dick (Sen. Richard Gordon) turned into an exposé of government nefarious dealings beyond a whiff of corruption amid a swirling vortex of prevarications, exacerbated by Duterte's untutored long-winded gibberish defense of his Chinese friends.

Truth will out

This verbal free-for-all has turned ugly, going down to the gutter-level with childish ad hominems and non sequitors: "Magpapayat ka muna" to the Dick; "lahat kayo, pati si Ping [Lacson], iba ang hairdo!" The President using the full force of government media with his almost nightly tirades, digging up dirt thrown at the Dick, from allegedly using Philippine Red Cross (PRC) funds to an ignorant threat of Commission on Audit auditing this private entity has degraded political discourse. While the Dick who never did accuse the President directly of involvement in a crime but did so by innuendo held the high ground, aware of the dictum that "he who loses his temper, loses the argument and loses respect." And the President did just that!

The blue ribbon known for its witness intimidation, and yes, grandstanding, may yet acquit itself. To the detriment of our decent Chinese Filipino community, it has demonstrated Malacañang's sleazy preference for foreign Chinese businessmen and fugitives - particularly after the Deegong's impassioned apologia for Michael Yang. This blue ribbon brouhaha is in some peculiar way reminiscent of the Deegong's bromance with China (Taiwan being a province), putting on center stage once more his favored treatment for bloodsucking Chinese POGO workers ("The sinification of the Philippines, The Manila Times, Feb. 26, 2020) and his pretend show of force against Chinese encroachment on the West Philippines Sea.

This is far from over. The blue ribbon may produce no convictions and incarcerations - these are executive branch prerogatives. But what will persist during this pandemic is the ubiquitous emblem of this government's corruption and impunity that we wear daily - these Chinese overpriced face masks and shields - the latter not even sanctioned by the World Health Organization or required by any other country in the world.

Onli in da Pilipins!000
Read 1160 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 15:06
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