The investigation being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee continues to unravel the details of the ₱42 billion pandemic scam involving the anomalous government purchase contract of overpriced face masks and other medical equipment last year. But even as threads of corruption continue to get untangled, it is already quite apparent to the Filipino people that Rodrigo Duterte himself, through his dummy Michael Yang, is involved in swindling the Filipino people.
What we can deduce so far are the following:
a) Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. is a paper company that serves as a dummy corporation of a Chinese official who is in cahoots with the Duterte government. Duterte, through Michael Yang, made a deal with this Chinese official to supply face masks and face shields at the outset of the pandemic when domestic supplies became tight. The ₱8.7 billion purchase deal was to be accomplished with Pharmally serving as importer.
b) Despite fully capable of accomplishing the necessary purchases, the Department of Health (DOH) was ordered to remit ₱42 billion to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to be used for various government purchases, including Duterte’s deal with China. Christopher Lao, an underling of Duterte’s trusted aid, Bong Go, was appointed to the PS-DBM by then Sec. Wendel Avisado, who is also a long-time Duterte official since his Davao mayor days.
Despite being a mere cog in this giant corruption machine, Health Sec. Franciso Duque III, who belongs to the Arroyo clique, apparently had wanted a bigger take. However, he was put into his place when the pro-Duterte majority in the senate issued a resolution calling for his resignation last April 2020 while Duterte’s aide Sen. Bong Go threatened to call for an investigation.
c) The face masks and face shields purchased through Pharmally were overpriced by as much as five times than the same items bought by the Red Cross during that time. The prices of the face masks were higher by at least twice the ₱13.50 a piece purchased from the EMS Corporation, which was later reduced to ₱2.35 a piece resulting in losses to the said company.
d) Pharmally Corporation, which claims to have only ₱625,000 capitalization, was financed by Michael Yang by at least ₱2.3 billion, to deliver the purchase contract of personal protective equipment (PPE). The PPE deal earned at least ₱1.52 billion in profits based on Pharmally’s claim that the PPEs were purchased at ₱1,150 each from its supplier and sold to the PS-DBM for ₱1,910 each (or ₱760 mark up on each item). There are claims that Yang pocketed the lion’s share of the profits, and that the Pharmally executives received only a small percentage.
We estimate that the investigations will reveal further lurid details of the corrupt deal, as well as other corruption schemes under the Duterte regime. These will likely show how the Bong Go-Christopher Lao-Michael Yang triumvirate serves as Duterte’s conduit to the Chinese bureaucrat capitalist and criminal syndicates. The Pharmally scandal is most probably just a small piece of the gargantuan criminal and corrupt operations under the Duterte regime.
The corruption and criminal activities of Duterte and his ilk are tightly bound to China. It is being reported that since Duterte assumed power in 2016, the Philippines has become a haven for money laundering of Chinese drug syndicates where money is being poured into casinos, offshore gaming operations and real estate (including the purchase and development of condominiums and entire islands as luxury getaways for Chinese billionaires and megamillionaires).
It is quite obvious that Duterte is harried by the investigations and fear that details revealing him to be holding the smoking gun of large-scale corruption will be exposed. Duterte is stepping up his effort to prevent the explosion of the people’s anger by undermining the Senate and ordering his cabinet officials to ignore summons to testify, the same tactic used by Gloria Arroyo in stoppling then congressional investigations into the NBN-ZTE deal. He is also using the people’s money to buy airtime for his now twice-weekly “talk to the people” where he engages in endless tirades against senators involved in the investigation and distract the public with one false claim after another.
All these anomalies and corruption in public funds show how bureaucrat capitalist operations work in the Philippines, and how officials of the reactionary state continue to accumulate wealth through bribery and cuts in government contracts, as well as protection money for gambling, drugs and other criminal syndicates.
Duterte’s makes pretenses of simple living to put up false appearances to dupe the public that he is incapable of corruption. This is, however, belied by his taste for luxurious private jets which he uses for frequent trips to Davao and secret trips abroad, and by his mistress’ appetite for high-living. Way beyond serving his personal affluence, however, the billions of pesos of public money that Duterte has his hands on are used to buy the loyalty of politicians who are awarded with favored government contracts, fund releases and other forms of privilege.
Like Marcos and many other tyrants, Duterte is sufficiently adept at hiding his accumulated wealth other than in his own bank accounts. Thus, one wonders why he would not want his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) released to the public, when most of his illegal wealth will not be listed in it anyway. Just as Marcos had his Cojuangcos, Floirendos, Disinis and Benedictos to serve as his cronies to hold his wealth, Duterte now has his Michael Yang and others to keep his wealth in dummy corporations and secret bank accounts overseas.
The Filipino people are seething with outrage over the exposure of large-scale corruption, plunder and squandering of their tax money, especially since the pandemic during which they were made to suffer prolonged lockdowns, unemployment, loss of income, shuttered schools, higher prices, poverty and hunger. They are outraged by the fact that billions upon billions of pesos that should have gone to improving the public health system and economic aid, instead went to the pockets of criminals and corrupt officials and to highly questionable infrastructure projects.
It is to the interest of the Filipino people that the Senate investigations must continue to dig deeper into and expose how Duterte himself is the mastermind of corruption. The Filipino people must support these investigations and condemn Duterte for his attempts to prevent the truth from being revealed. They must call on all people of integrity to resign from the corrupt government and reveal all they know about the regime’s corruption. They must hold public meetings in their factories, offices, communities, hospitals and online to forge their united stand against the corruption of the Duterte regime. They must go to the streets and manifest their demand for an immediate end to Duterte’s corrupt and tyrannical regime.