A shady legacy: Pharmally Featured

First of 2 parts

FORMER president Duterte left office with accomplishments his constituency can be proud of. The much-touted Build, Build, Build (Triple Build!) program was one of those successes that ushered in his "Golden Age of Infrastructure" — an unprecedented increased spending in infrastructure surpassing even the two decades of Ferdinand and Imelda's building spree. Partly to decongest the capital region, it was meant to disperse and encourage economic growth and reduce poverty all over. On top of this, the Deegong initiated liberal economic improvements, particularly a comprehensive tax reform program. The Deegong's own data boast providing almost 10 million jobs in the six years that he was in power.

At the outset, the Deegong introduced a predictable foreign policy scheme reflecting his personal disdain for America, veering away from the traditional lapdog relations, and opened up an entente cordiale with China. Two years into his administration, he declared that China plays a crucial role in his Triple Build! program, intimating that, "I just simply love Xi Jinping. He understands my problem, and he's willing to help. And I would like to say thank you, China." His economic managers and budget officials estimated the cost of this program at around P9 trillion ($180 billion) over six years.

The target was set at 75 flagship projects, which included airports, railways, roads and bridges, seaports, etc. Among those that Duterte wanted funded was the Subic-Clark railway project costing $940 million, the biggest government-to-government project to be bankrolled by China. But the one Duterte is particularly proud of is the Davao City-Island Garden City of Samal $400 million bridge — that has been promised since time immemorial by countless Philippine administrations after World War 2. Whether Xi Jinping has stuck to his promise or not is no longer the Deegong's concern. Duterte is now enjoying his retirement in Davao and may still cross the Davao-Samal bridge soon, surely a feather in his cap. His legacy is largely intact awaiting history's judgment.

Flawed legacy

His rapprochement and bromance with China certainly yielded these nice dividends but along with these were those that may blemish his cherished legacy: POGO and Pharmally. First, the latter, considered as one of the biggest corruption occurrences that personally stained Duterte's reputation as a president who will not tolerate corruption — even "a whiff of it" — has remained unresolved. After several lengthy Senate blue ribbon committee (BRC) hearings by erstwhile chairman, the then-senator Dick Gordon, his bete noire, 11 other senators, mostly the President's allies, refused to sign the findings, relegating the same to BRC limbo. But up in the air was Malacañang's role in this sordid affair. Emerging from the hearing was Malacañang seen to be complicit, not simply naïve. This could be gleaned from the vehemence of the Deegong's attack on Gordon and his dogged defense of his Chinese friends. This brings to mind how enamored our Duterte is with China. God forbid, if China holds the Deegong by the balls and by inference, we Filipinos.

The Chinese connection

To review, what came out in the hearing was a series of shocking testimonies proving that the undercapitalized (P625,000 paid-up) Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. bagged P8.68 billion in government contracts with 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. These executives, owners and facilitators, starting with Duterte's "economic adviser" Michael Yang, a shadowy mainland Chinese figure known by many labels — consultant, facilitator, bagman, pagador or locally, as bugaw (pimp), depending on the package offered and bought — have gotten away scot-free.

What is unconscionable is that the BRC hearing has established that with the acquiescence of then Health secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao facilitated the allegedly irregular release of P42 billion (and more) for personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement, including the anomalous fund transfers from the Department of Health (DoH) to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

At the center of this maelstrom is Lao, 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, is reportedly a stooge of Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, who has denied it. At the hearings, he admitted that no due diligence was conducted on Pharmally, negligently awarding billions to a practically "unknown company" and requiring only a casual background check on the incorporators and executives who turned out to be fugitives from justice (from China and Taiwan) — is simply irresponsible and may even be criminal.

Marcos crafting own legacy

Now the ball is in BBM's court. In his SONA last July 25, he proposed 19 bills for Congress to consider giving direction to his cabinet on where to bring his government. But on a very crucial point, he never did mention any anti-corruption initiatives. In fact, subsequent to his SONA, he signed Executive Order 1 abolishing among others the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC). This was altogether not unwelcome as the PACC was a bureaucracy that fell short of its mandate to enable President Duterte to investigate corruption in the bureaucracy.

Still, at the start of BBM's watch, his profound silence on how he was going to confront corruption and its attendant ills to the bureaucracy and to the country has a chilling effect — considering that graft and corruption, rent-seeking and regulatory capture were once major issues of his father's martial law regime.

We can only hope that his reticence is not a signal that the shady acts of his predecessor's people are being condoned. He doesn't owe the Deegong any favors; he didn't even support his candidacy short of allowing his daughter to run under him. This time, he can prevail upon his Department of Justice to revisit the Senate's BRC findings and by its own volition investigate the Pharmally corruption. It is imperative that the biggest anomaly in the past administration — making it more egregious as it happened during the pandemic — be given closure. BBM and the Filipino people cannot countenance these Chinese miscreants and their allies in the bureaucracy and in the highest echelons of government. They need to be brought to justice and this perversion resolved.

This is not racial, going after the Chinese businessmen. Many of these Chinese personalities have their own criminal cases in the mainland and in Taiwan. BBM will be doing them a favor. This is not also political, as names of past Cabinet members and even a member of the Senate have been dragged into the muck. And more importantly, BBM will telegraph to the citizenry, in his second 100 days, that he possesses the political will to do what is right for the country.

The Pharmally anomaly is a cut-and-dried case. The dozen or so Senate BRC hearings contain evidence that could burn the scoundrels and even perhaps clear the past president — or burn him.

Next week, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022: POGO

 

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