The other pandemic

By Artchil B. Fernandez

Aside from Covid-19, there is another equally deadly pandemic currently wrecking the country. This other pandemic is man-made and worsened the Covid-19 plague.

The other pandemic is the pandemic of corruption and incompetence. This pandemic arrived in the country four years ahead of Covid-19. Today the two viruses have combined, with lethal results on the Filipino people.

Last week, the Commission on Audit (COA) gave the genome sequence of the virus that is responsible for the pandemic of corruption and incompetence. The virus of corruption and incompetence has infected the whole administration of Du30 but recent audit report reveals it is heavily clustered in the Department of Health (DOH).

COA 2020 audit report posted in its website (not sent to the media) found that 67.37 billion of pandemic funds were riddled with deficiencies and were mismanaged by the health department under the leadership of Du30’s most favored cabinet secretary Francisco Duque. The most outrageous finding of COA is, 2020 ended with 11.89 billion of pandemic fund not spent or used. In time of pandemic which already killed 32,728 (as of this writing) Filipinos, the non-utilization of health fund is criminal neglect.

Here are the other highlights of the COA report cited by the Inquirer: “some P69.9 million worth of medical equipment and COVID-19 supplies that remained unutilized; P275.9 million cash allowances, gift certificates, and grocery items for personnel that did not have “sufficient’’ legal basis; P1.4 billion of in-kind donations that were not properly accounted for; P24.6 billion unused for public health service; P1.2 billion of undelivered equipment; P3.97 billion in undocumented projects and “doubtful’’ transactions; and P557.7 million in “excessive and unnecessary’’ expenditures, among others.”

In addition, COA also uncovered that 3.4 billion of foreign aid for Covid response was not used. State auditors discovered that 95.15 million worth of medicines were about to expire or are already expired and that there are irregularities in the handling of 734.603 million interim reimbursement mechanism funds.

While billions of DOH funds are misused and mismanaged, full of deficiencies, the tired and over-worked health workers of the country are yet to receive the benefits allotted to them. Until now the health workers are still waiting for their special risk allowance as well as their meals, accommodation and transportation allowance. This gross neglect of the plight of the health workers in time of pandemic is outrageous. It is exhibit A for the incompetence, laziness and insensitivity of the present administration.

Without bothering even to glance at the COA report on how the DOH abused public funds, Du30 launched a scathing attack on the constitutional body that safeguards people’s money. Du30 was mad at the audit agency for exposing the brazen mishandling and misuse of taxpayers’ money accusing it of flogging his favorite cabinet secretary.

“Stop that flagging, goddamnit. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person you are flagging,” Du30 lashed out at COA.  “What you are doing is flogging. Striking. Please don’t. You keep on flagging but then nobody gets jailed, nobody at all. When you flag, there is already a taint of corruption by perception,” he fumed in his late night show.

Du30 ended his rant against COA by instructing his underlings to ignore the directive of the agency. “Don’t follow COA. COA-COA, nothing happens anyway. That’s what I don’t like, that flagging.”

This is not the first time Du30 publicly scolded COA.  In his previous assaults on the audit body, he even threatened physical harm on state auditors. Du30’s natural allergy and hatred of state audit exposes the hypocrisy and fakeness of his anti-corruption stance. His loathing for transparency cultivates and breeds corruption in government.

Early in his administration, Du30 made a “not a whiff of corruption” vow, declaring that he will fire any government functionary, particularly high officials if they are tainted with the smell of corruption. So far, only low-level civil servants and barangay officials were dismissed. No high official was punished for corruption.

Latest defense of Du30 of Duque is not only a blatant display of double-standard and blind loyalty but exposes his anti-corruption drive is a sham. He did not even go through the motion of ordering an investigation. Notwithstanding COA’s report detailing how the DOH under Duque misused, mishandled, and wasted public funds; he is a saint to Du30 and can do no wrong. By spoiling Duque, acting blind to his excesses and abuse of people’s money and excusing his shenanigans in the DOH, Du30 is actually encouraging corruption and incompetence. One cannot be against corruption and averse to transparency at the same time.

What is happening in the DOH – the sickening corruption and repugnant incompetence, is a microcosm of the Du30 administration. The DOH is the breeding nest, the ground zero of the virus of corruption and incompetence that infests the current administration. By protecting the DOH, Du30 is the raiser, breeder, and cultivator of the virus of corruption and incompetence. After all, Du30 is the only president who has not made public his SALNs. Duque is simply following his master, a faithful servant of the supreme lord of corruption and incompetence.

With the pandemic of corruption and incompetence complementing the Covid-19 pandemic, it not surprising the Philippines is the country with the highest number cases of Covid-19 infections (1,899,200) in the Western Pacific region latest WHO report reveals. Had not the pandemic of corruption and incompetence also infected the country, the sufferings of Filipinos under the current health crisis would have been alleviated and eased.