Editorial: Probe pandemic expenditures

·2 min read

HOW we wish the country’s top leader would honor his word, given in 2016, and echoed in many occasions thereafter: “Huwag na huwag talaga akong makarinig na corruption, (not) even a whiff or whisper. I will fire you or place you somewhere. Mamili kayo: ComVal (Compostela Valley), Jolo?”

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the use of Covid-19 response funds revealed not just a whiff or a whisper, but dark air wafting ominously of irregularities.

Most glaring of all is the granting of contracts amounting to a total of P8.7 billion to newbie medical supplier firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, created in September 2019. The firm, which only had a paid-up capital of P625,000, does not even appear in the Philippine Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) database for previous contracts.

The Philippine procurement law says that for a firm to qualify, it must have similar projects worth at least 50 percent of the contract it is currently bidding for. As Pharmally was supposedly bidding for a multi-billion worth of supplies, its financial state must have shown a Net Financial Contracting Capacity of at least equal to the project cost.

The favored Pharmally edged out more qualified bidders, getting almost half of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management’s (PS-DBM) P20.9 billion worth of contracts for pandemic response supplies such as test kits, extraction machines and personal protective equipment.

Pharmally was owned by a certain “Filipino” named Huang Tzu Yen, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records. It turned out that Huang is linked to the President’s former economic adviser Michael Yang through a network of companies.

Pharmally’s contracts with the DBM were mostly signed by then PS-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who in the Senate hearing admitted to having failed to check the articles of incorporation as far as Pharmally was concerned.

To that Sen. Panfilo Lacson reacted: “It is either there was no due diligence for reason of collusion, or they were lazy to exercise diligence, or they are sloppy, which I don’t want to believe...being the PS-DBM, a trained and experienced procuring entity of the government...I wonder how they were able to award the procurement of billions of these items?”

These pieces of information merit an investigation “at the very least” by the Ombudsman, said Sen. Franklin Drilon.

Many of the personalities that surfaced in the hearing point to a caballing network of Davao businessmen close to the President, a “whiff” that could exude top-level corruption. What made the situation worse is that the President is at a childish offensive, taking a swipe at the senators’ person instead of replying to the allegations of irregularities head-on. The President could be panicking, as Lacson pointed out.

Government’s way out of these allegations can only be paved by facts, not by a President calling out the hairstyles of political adversaries.

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