Erosion of public trust and support

Published October 7, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Diwa C. Guinigundo


Diwa C. Guinigundo

The President’s order preventing his cabinet from attending Senate investigation was no surprise. Every time Pharmally executives and staff open their masked mouths, testimonies accumulate to corroborate possible graft, swindling and plunder. If sustained, it’s anybody’s guess where the paper trail would end up.

Very few expected Pharmally executive Krizle Grace Mago to admit that Pharmally “swindled” the government by delivering damaged and expired protective gear under oath. She instructed the warehouse staff to change the expiry date of face shields, clean those damaged by rainwater, and fix the delivery boxes. She pointed to Pharmally’s secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani who directed her to do it.

Her testimony unmasked the impossible situation of Pharmally — a new firm, capitalized at only ₱625,000 with no track record of delivering medical supplies to the government, and winning contracts worth ₱11.5 billion. With a small office to rent with a small staff, their profits ended up procuring luxury cars after they were immediately paid by the government. The Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management was unusually quick to pay.

Pharmally director Linconn Ong also disclosed that Michael Yang supported them as guarantor to their suppliers from China and lender to the company. Based on Malacañang Record Office’s documents, a Yang Hong Ming was contracted as economic adviser to the President in 2018.

Yang Hong Ming is Michael Yang, a Chinese national, Senate probers found.

Senator Dick Gordon seemed to have clinched a solid case that could be prosecuted in the proper courts until Mago stopped attending Senate investigation. When she reappeared, she was already under the protective custody of the House of Representatives. We now have a situation involving both houses of Congress hearing the same case, calling the same witnesses, looking at the same evidence. Apart from the possible issue of overlaps, what happens if Congress releases two reports with different findings?

We are afraid of this possibility because it was Party List Representative Michael Aglipay last week who declared that he “saw nothing wrong with the government’s procurement of two million face shields from Pharmally despite revelations of tampering of expiration date by its Senate counterpart.”

How could Aglipay, chair of the House’s good government and public accountability committee which would look into the Pharmally deals, reach such a conclusion when the probe has not begun?

What caused Mago’s change of heart?

Her company is smack right in the middle of this pandemic anomaly without which more lives could have been saved and more vaccines could have been procured. Someone must have briefed Mago on what further awaits her at the Senate.

Some people who worked closely with the President also appear involved based on the testimonies and other evidence. The former presidential adviser on economic affairs was guarantor and lender of funds. The former undersecretary in charge of Procurement Services awarded substantial contracts to the favored company. Subordinates were made to sign on the inspection sheets without ever seeing the deliveries which were reportedly still in transit.

Of all people, the President should be the first to insist on finding the truth. Instead, he recently barred his cabinet members from attending Senate hearings without his permission. He lost points because congressional investigations are enshrined in the Constitution. His pronouncements against some senators and the Senate as an institution are simply unpresidential. They undermine established institutions like separation of powers and respect for equal branch of government.

It is not right to threaten Congress because there could only be a constitutional crisis if he breaches his own oath of office to obey and respect the Constitution. In the first place, the Senate could very well cite in contempt anyone who refuses to cooperate in public hearings and implement its order through its own sergeant-at-arms. It is not even contesting the executive powers.

The President should know that a growing number of groups are challenging the President’s directive. The Philippine Senate slammed the President’s order claiming that he simply wanted “to prevent the truth from coming out.” Both the Philippine Bar Association and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines issued separate statements asking the President to withdraw his directive on legal and constitutional grounds. Various cause-oriented groups joined the call.

Business groups likewise called for “a full and fair accounting” of how the government spent taxpayers’ money in responding to the pandemic. The groups appealed to public officials to cooperate in the Senate investigation. The business groups include the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference.

The cracks are beginning to show. Pulse Asia’s latest survey on the comparative ratings of the Duterte administration between September, 2020 and September, 2021 indicates a general decline on all 14 areas of governance. Government’s inflation control dropped by 26 percentage points (ppts). The next biggest decline of 25 ppts showed in the government’s weak performance in fighting graft and controlling the spread of COVID-19.

A crisis is always a wake-up call. Somebody should wake up to the reality that we face a health and economic crisis that demands competent and honest leadership. Yet, his public trust and support are eroding fast.