POSTSCRIPT / September 2, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte dares foes: Cast the first stone!

PRESIDENT Duterte threw down the gauntlet Monday as if to say “He who is without sin, let him first cast a stone” to the growing crowd of critics raising questions over his managing of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several senators have become outspoken lately in assailing Malacañang, eliciting angry retorts from Duterte that the Senate public hearing on alleged corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment is being used to spread baseless accusations.

Duterte warned that he has his own stones to throw, for example, at Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, and Sen. Ping Lacson, among a number of public figures expressing alarm over alleged corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment.

Taking advantage of the raging pandemic to pocket millions from emergency purchases of needed equipment and supplies is unconscionable.

In his meeting with his pandemic team (televised Tuesday night), Duterte disparaged Gordon’s being obese and his “talking too much”. He said the senator interrupted witnesses during committee hearings and cut them short before they could complete their responses.

As for Lacson, who had announced his plan to run for president in May 2022, Duterte threw a loaded question on what dark secrets the senator kept. A former national police chief, the senator had been linked to some high-profile kidnapping and murder cases.

“Are you honest? Answer truthfully,” he asked Lacson. “If yes, sasagutin kita (I’ll answer you) in my next program.” He added enigmatically that he would present documents, but left hanging about what.

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DUTERTE threatened to order his Cabinet to snub Senate summons if Gordon’s committee treats them shabbily, or to refuse to answer unfair questions. He told Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who has been at the center of the investigation:

Kung mapuno ka na, you just stand up. Kung i-contempt ka nila, hahanap ako ng paraan. (If you get sick of it, you just stand up. If they cite you in contempt, I will find a way.) In 24 hours, I will extract you.”

On a clamor for Duque’s resignation, Duterte said that while he saw no reason to fire him, he would accept his resignation if offered – contrary to his earlier statement that he would reject it. The general impression is that the duo would stay or fall together.

Vouching for the innocence of Duque in the transfer of P42 billion in DoH funds to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), Duterte said that the transfer was made upon his instructions.

If anyone has to answer for the transfer of the amount and its eventual use to purchase allegedly overpriced protective health gear, he said, it would be him the President, not anyone else.

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SENATE Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sen. Risa Hontiveros and other senators have questioned the award of P8.7 billion in contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a firm set up in 2019 with a capitalization of only P650,000.

The PS-DBM under then Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao also awarded 11 contracts to Chinese firms to supply face masks and face shields that were later deemed grossly overpriced.

Asked if his panel would also question Sen. Bong Go, who had been mentioned in connection with big Palace deals, Gordon said he did not want to investigate a colleague, but that “when push comes to shove,” the ethics committee may just have to do that.

Go, a former Duterte aide, has denied any improper conduct in relation to PS-DBM purchases. He also denied reports that Lao used to work under him.

In detention meanwhile, Sen. Leila de Lima tweeted on Aug. 29: “It does not take rocket science to figure out what happened in this transaction. Duque channeled P42 billion in DoH funds to Lao, who, in turn, directly reports to the Davao mafia. The Davao mafia, in turn, causes the awarding of the P8.7 billion PPE contract through Lao to one of their Chinese buddies, Huang Wenlie, owner of Pharmally Corp. The Davao boys are all happy.”

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DUTERTE noted that the fireworks of the 2022 national elections have started. That sounded like he was serving notice that he has explosive surprises (dossiers?) on his political enemies and others who might become a problem or get in his way.

In the same meeting with the pandemic team, Duterte defended former PS-DBM chief Lao and former presidential adviser Michael Yang, who are embroiled in questions over the administration’s pandemic funds.

He said he appointed Lao to various sensitive posts because he has trusted him since the time he was Davao City mayor and through his 2016 presidential campaign. As PS-DBM chief, Lao signed contracts and purchase orders with Pharmally that are now being investigated.

Anong masama kung magbayad ako ng utang (What’s wrong with paying my debts)?” he asked.

As for Yang, Duterte described him as the contact person of Chinese investors who want to do business in the Philippines:

Kasi si Michael Yang daw, negosyante ito adre, hindi naman ito nagtatapon ng pera. May contact ito sa China na malalaking korporasyon at siya ang nag-pagador, made their entry here. (Because Michael Yang is a businessman, he doesn’t throw away money. He has contacts with big corporations in China and he’s their entry here.)”

“I thought, let us go to China and invite the investors here? There, they invested, but during the time of the pandemic. What’s wrong with that?” he asked.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 2, 2021)

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