By Artchil B. Fernandez

“He must be held accountable!” This is the central finding of the 113-page Senate blue ribbon committee report on the controversial deal between the government and Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. The report accused Du30 as complicit in “one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.”

The Pharmally controversy is dubbed as “plundemic” where a few corrupt, unscrupulous and greedy individuals siphoned off billions of public funds through the delivery of overpriced and in some instances non-existent medical supplies while thousands perished in the pandemic. Profiting from the death and suffering of others is unconscionable, cruel and heartless.

Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation with a paid-up capital of Php625,000 and incorporated only on September 2, 2019, was not even a year old when it cornered around Php11 billion in contracts to supply the government with medical supplies and equipment. The corporation serves only as a middleman and sold to the government over-priced products. Its face mask, for example, costs Php27.72 a piece when the market price was between Php18 to Php23.90 a piece.  The company earned enormous profit from the anomalous deals that its executives bought luxury cars – Porsche, Lexus and Lamborghini, worth tens of millions of pesos.

Public outrage broke when the questionable transactions were exposed to the public. The pandemic brought the entire country to its knees and millions of Filipinos suffered horrendously. Yet some greedy individuals in connivance with corrupt government officials had the gall to fatten their bank accounts at the expense of the suffering and death of others.  Senate conducted an investigation into the anomaly and its findings are damning.

“The nation has been betrayed. While millions are unemployed, have become poorer and hungrier, are desperate even for just a glimmer of hope, what this administration has done is to exacerbate the already execrable and hopeless state the people are all in. None can be more unforgivable,” the report said.

The report pointed to the culpability of Du30 and said the anomaly would not happen without his prior knowledge. “Malfeasance, misfeasance, and/or non-feasance” were committed by government officials “under the nose of the President.”

“The amounts involved in the dirty transactions were enormous, producing a stench that would have been impossible to ignore in Malacañang,” the blue-ribbon report said. “The President as Chief Executive should have known what his appointees and friends were doing.”

“If he did not know prior to the Senate investigation, then it certainly came to his attention when the hearings were underway, and instead of investigating the matter or supporting any such investigation, he chose to defend and protect those closest to him who had dipped their fingers into the coffers of the nation,” it added.

These are the alleged offenses committed by Du30 in the Pharmally scandal:  “The appointment of Yang, a foreign national, as his ‘economic adviser’ in 2018, which allowed the businessman to introduce many Chinese suppliers that transacted with the government and in the process enriched himself immensely; accepting an undercapitalized corporation owned by a Taiwanese fugitive (Pharmally’s Huang) with proven ties to Yang; seeking to discredit the Commission on Audit (COA) which had flagged the anomalous transaction and making threats to prevent it from functioning; trying to discredit the credibility of the Senate by ‘publicly attacking, maligning and disrespecting’ a coequal branch of government; ordering the issuance of a ‘patently illegal’ memorandum preventing his Cabinet members and other officials from attending Senate hearings; refusing to run after his appointees despite calls from the public and the Senate to compel their attendance in the hearings and failing to hold them accountable for ‘one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.”

Most puzzling for the Senate is the strange behavior of Du30 when the scandal was exposed to the public. “The most troubling question remains—why was the President so quick to defend those closest to him once their names were linked to the anomaly and then so eager to discredit the Senate investigation, prevent his appointees from cooperating, and absolve them of any liability?” the report asked. Didn’t Du30 vow that he would not tolerate even a whiff of corruption in his administration?

In the end, the Senate came to the following conclusion: “Unfortunately, based on the President’s own behavior, one cannot help but conclude that he was aware of, allowed, and condoned the misdeeds of his closest associates and appointees,” it said. “For this, he must be held accountable.”

A double tragedy struck the Filipino people as the once-in-a-century pandemic devastates the country. The administration’s laziness and incompetence exacerbated the pain and agony of the nation. Compounding the misery of the people is the massive graft and corruption committed by heartless and greedy officials and their accomplices who took advantage of the misfortune, grief and affliction of others to enrich themselves.

Almost six years ago, Du30 declared change is coming which now more accurately means change scamming. None of the major promises he made were fulfilled. The same problems especially graft and corruption continue to ravage the nation. The Pharmally scandal has shown that corruption only worsened under Du30. The pandemic even provided the corrupt the golden opportunity to plunder the national treasury.

What is wreaking havoc on the country today is not just a pandemic but a plundemic – pandemic made worse by plunder.