Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad

Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad Featured

THIS classic phrase illustrates what is happening in the highest institutions of our country today, the legislative and the executive. These two democratic institutions - in theory co-equal and durable (including the judiciary) - are meant to be interdependent branches of government with powers defined by our Constitution. But in reality, man-made as they are, the presidency can be "more equal"; nonetheless, both are fickle. Institutional dynamics are significantly prejudiced by the people presiding over them. We refer specifically to the constructs within these separate institutions: the blue ribbon committee of chairman Richard Gordon and the office of the presidency. The two central characters, I fear, have of late gone mad! Not mad as in "angry, infuriated or livid," but mad as in "insane"! The public has never witnessed such vicious hostility between two protagonists in a combat by proxy in a separate arena; one in the Senate's hallowed halls, the other at the nightly Malacañang Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases press briefings with social media stoking the carnage. The fight, nonetheless, is as gory as a gladiatorial mano a mano: personal, lethal and dirty. None will win. But the losers are our institutions.

Genesis of a corruption

What started as a moro-moro traditionally presaging an election circus season turned nasty when the blue ribbon, a legitimate subsidiary to the Senate's constitutionally mandated oversight functions over the executive departments, was convened to look into what the Commission on Audit flagged as irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during this pandemic. President Duterte's knee-jerk response to castigate the harbinger of bad news, not the bad news itself, prompted the convening of the blue ribbon to dig further. True enough, the Department of Health (DoH)-Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) funds transfer in itself was proscribed.

It should be noted that there was no love lost between the ambitious senator and the President now perceived to be an easy adversary entering lame-duck status.

The Deegong was clearly at a disadvantage as the Senate was performing its mandate. But the wily and overzealous senator has eroded the high ground by a performance that is less than stellar. Although his bamboozling of witnesses, unable to put a word in edgewise before the senator's machinegun-like spittle-scattering questions, ferreted out some ugly facts amidst panic and confusion.

What has been learned so far

The blue ribbon hearings have shown that a scam is being perpetrated in the procurement of PPE, with the culpable bureaucracy appallingly exploiting a world crisis brought on by the pandemic. The details have by now been digested by the public; that the DoH illegally transferred P42 billion of its funds to the procurement service of the PS-DBM to outsource the bidding and purchase of PPE and other related, pandemic supplies; that the PS-DBM bought overpriced surgical masks from various suppliers but favoring the under-capitalized Chinese subsidiary Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., topping more than P8.7 billion. The stink has diffused to high heavens and will not dissipate on Duterte's simple say-so, demanding that he be taken on faith.


The Chinese connection and the involvement of close colleagues of the President was perfunctorily established by the blue ribbon. Although not directly accused of corruption himself, the President's subsequent vehement defense of his Chinese colleagues, particularly of his erstwhile "economic adviser," Michael Yang, in a diatribe is reminiscent of a line in Hamlet's - "the lady doth protest too much, methink."

The next moves

To halt the hemorrhage of possible incriminating evidence and an attempt to cover for his men, Duterte recently ordered government officials to clear with him before appearing at Senate hearings. This has been done by past presidents through declaration of executive privilege. The Supreme Court didn't agree. Admittedly, senior executives and hundreds of "resource persons" time-wasting appearances under pain of "Senate contempt" have more to do with the Senate's vanity-driven measures asserting its oversight functions than anything else. Only a handful are called with the rest twiddling their thumbs over hearings that last for four to seven hours. But this presidential injunction could also derail the 2022 national budget deliberations, exacerbating the economic collapse which has already caused massive unemployment and Covid-driven business closures.

At this point, the public has had its fill of the sordid facts, innuendo and chismis surrounding the month-long moro-moro. Perhaps the blue ribbon has enough goods on the massive corruption of this government to ensnare the miscreants and prove them all to be criminally liable and pass these on to the appropriate courts. And revert back to the more important concerns of the country - resolving the pandemic and its resultant economic depredations.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the more restrained among the President's men, has this to say: "Just file the necessary cases and leave it to the experts tasked to investigate them while you (Senate) do your jobs to legislate or conduct investigation properly in aid of legislation. By doing so, you can preserve your energy for the coming elections."

The blue ribbon may have squeezed out the last extracts from government corruption leaving only the residue relevant to the election season; and allowing further alibi for the President to regain his strong-man repute disputing a lame-duck status. The President, piqued by Senator Gordon and intolerant of criticism, has vowed to campaign against the senator - which may instead guarantee Gordon's reelection.

What are the stakes

In retrospect, all these contribute to what ails the Philippines today. Our concept of governance is defective and bankrupt, among other things. On one level, traditional political practices are pervasive resulting in personality-centered electoral politics, the motivating factors driving the rivalry between power centers – the legislative and the executive branches - each using its constitutionally sanctioned prerogatives as weapons. On the one hand is the Senate's oversight function over the executive branch, and on the other is the executive branch's prerogatives and license over the regulatory agencies. Both have potential for abuse. And in these hearings, both have shamelessly transgressed the parameters of their discretion.

On another level, our inherently defective system has a paucity of transparency and accountability. The blue ribbon has uncovered fraud in the use of public money. The appropriate response would have been for the executive branch to investigate anomalies and prosecute the same. The Duterte doctrine of dismissing on a mere "whiff of corruption" would have been a deterrent if applied promptly. Instead, Duterte's knee-jerk reaction was to deny the presence of corruption, initiate ad hominem assaults on the investigators and a personal aggressive defense of the rent-seekers and perpetrators.

All these occurring during the country's highest regime of pain and trauma, the continued harvest of dead souls through mismanagement of the pandemic and its resultant economic devastation. The repercussions are wide and long-term, and the aftermath is grim. The leadership of today's branches of government will be answerable to the generations to come.

Enough is enough! We need our leadership in all branches of government to hunker down and prioritize their next moves. Politics must be deleted from the equation. The hearings could stop now, and the President must prosecute the corrupt. He has eight months more to rule. Until then, he is accountable for Filipino lives yet to be wasted.

Or they can continue this madness. And the gods deliver us from them.

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Read 60 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 15:01
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