AT least, thank God, this kind of Yellow black propaganda blitz didn’t last too long, to be exact just 23 days after Sen. Franklin Drilon fired the first salvo, bannered on the front page by, as usual, the opposition newsletter Philippine Daily Inquirer: “P8.7 billion med supply deals went to tiny company.”
This time though, obviously intent on seeking higher office in 2022, the “independent” Sen. Richard Gordon joined the fray, even becoming the face of this blitz. The thrust of this desperate propaganda blitz: the Duterte government bought billions of pesos worth of overpriced masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment against Covid-19.
As usual, the choir of Yellow columnists repeated the allegations, expressing outrage even as they didn’t bother to check the facts, following the advice, attributed to diehard Yellow Loida Nicolas Lewis, leaked in her social media platform, that allegations against Duterte “don’t need to be true, they just have to appear true.”
In just one hearing the other day of the House of Representatives’ good government committee, those dragged into the senators’ allegations were calmly asked about it and not shouted at and threatened as Gordon and Drilon did, and the truth was quite easily revealed.
Gordon and Drilon kept repeating that it was the Commission on Audit (CoA) that unearthed the overpricing by the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM). Well, at the House hearing, CoA chairman Michael Aguinaldo (appointed by President Aquino in March 2015) in effect declared Gordon and Drilon to be liars. I am quoting the Inquirer report here – at length – so there’s no chance of me spinning his and others’ testimony.
“Aguinaldo told the hearing that there were no findings of overpricing of pandemic supplies, but that the PS-DBM was called out for its lapses in inventory management that resulted in slow-moving supplies that remained unsold by the end of 2020.”
The Inquirer report continued:
“Rhodora Ugay, supervising auditor for the Department of Health (DoH), pointed out that the CoA already clarified that the audit report did not say anything about finding corruption.
“House Deputy Speaker and Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta questioned the Senate blue ribbon committee’s insistence in pushing its probe.
“‘If chairman Aguinaldo said there were no findings of overpricing, what would be the reason for the ongoing hearings in the other chamber?’ he said. ‘Does this mean that the Senate blue ribbon committee does not believe in the CoA’s findings?’
“Former PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao and former director for procurement Warren Rex Liong said all the transactions between the agency and Pharmally and other suppliers were aboveboard.
“Liong, now a deputy ombudsman, said Pharmally’s face masks were not overpriced at P27.72 as it was below the DoH’s ceiling price of P28 for face masks in March 2020.
“Pharmally, he added, had supplies on hand and was able to deliver as early as March 2020, way ahead of local suppliers like EMS Components Assembly Inc.
“Liong said the P1,910 price per PPE set that the PS-DBM bought from Pharmally was ‘reasonable’ at the time.
“In response to findings in the Senate probe that Pharmally’s papers were not in order and the company allegedly gave a false address, Liong said the only requirements that PS-DBM needed were a mayor’s permit, an income tax return, omnibus sworn statements and the compliance with technical specifications.”
“‘Even in regular competitive bidding, the general information sheet is not required. It is not even required to visit the official address of the corporation under regular bidding,’ Liong said.
“The Bayanihan 1 law allows the president to make procurements in an ‘expeditious manner’ by exempting emergency purchases from complying with Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
“Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force Against Covid-19 pointed out that while the government used military planes to fly in PPE sets from China, it was Pharmally that delivered these to various ports in Manila, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Cebu City.
“Marcoleta and Aglipay asked if the PS-DBM favored any particular supplier, such as Chinese companies, while leaving out local suppliers.
“‘No, we did not favor anyone. At the start of the pandemic our supply was low, so we had to go to China directly since most of the face masks are from China,’ Liong said. He said no influential person, like Sen. Bong Go or any Malacañang official, pushed the PS-DBM to award contracts to Pharmally.
“Galvez maintained that he, too, did not favor any supplier. ‘The President told me to secure supplies. He said, ‘It’s up to you, as long as you produce the PPE, because I told him that 17 doctors died,’ Galvez said. In earlier testimonies, he said the authorities were frantically looking for PPE when 37 doctors and Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd also said the transactions were aboveboard.
“‘If we waited for the prices to drop, then many health workers would have fallen sick, gotten intubated or even died. We had to act fast,’ Duque said.”
And for all these revelations that proved that its screaming headlines in the past several weeks were lies, what headline did the Inquirer editors use? “Duterte finds House backers in resistance to Senate panel’s Pharmally probe.” That is the kind of newspaper it is. Even for an article that revealed the truth, it sums it up as a case of Duterte merely having “House backers.”
Gordon and Drilon probably have aged so fast in the lockdowns they didn’t study this issue fully. Even if there was overpricing, it would be practically impossible to prove it in the case of procurement of masks and face shields since these commodities aren’t standardized. If government procured, say, a particular model Toyota Fortuner for P4 million, it would be easy to prove there was an overprice as a Fortuner is more or less standardized, its price set in a particular range even with accessories.
Masks and shields are not just not standardized, it would be impossible for Drilon and Gordon to acquire the particular brand that the DBM ordered – they’ve all been distributed – and compare it with a less expensive one. And of course, even if there was an overprice the budget department people will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Sorry, we didn’t have the time to canvas the market, as we were in a hurry.” Can they be sued for negligence? Nope, the Bayanihan 1 law that authorizes the purchases gives government the discretion on the grounds that it is an emergency procurement.
Drilon was with a corporate law firm before entering politics. He knows he was lying when he expressed outrage over how a “tiny firm” could acquire billions of pesos worth of materials for government. Brokers are mere middlemen, they arrange the order between buyer and seller; the “billions” simply pass through them as, especially in this case, they don’t carry an inventory of the items purchased.
Ridding government of corruption wasn’t Gordon and Drilon’s intent. It was to blacken Duterte’s image that even Gordon, as the exposer of the corruption, could become a “presidentiable” or “vice presidentiable.” And no matter if he doesn’t really have the chance of winning. all he wants would be some decent campaign funds flowing into his bank account so he can ride into the sunset with an overflowing purse.
Worse for Gordon and Drilon: didn’t they research first who the DBM official they claim is corrupt in overpricing the materials? Warren Rex Liong was appointed by Duterte as overall deputy ombudsman last November. Would the ombudsman accept a case filed against him for overpricing? Ha!
But not only that, if you’ve ever been in government, you know that the ombudsman and his deputies are the most feared officials of the land. Even if a case against you is so flimsy, they could still accept it, suspend you and the case could last for years, even way after your retirement.
Perhaps it is that revelation that has driven Gordon to panic, with his Facebook page now so filled with the vilest ad hominem against Duterte, perhaps thinking that could topple his rule or prevent his anointed from taking over in 2022.
And my apologies for the title of this piece, as I couldn’t help delivering a verbal batok of sorts on Gordon and Drilon. I’m outraged at their propaganda blitz. We’re in the peak of a pandemic, we’re having 18,000 Covid-19 cases daily, and hospitals’ facilities are at 70 percent occupancy. Yet these two have made the lives of the officials dealing with the pandemic more difficult with false charges – just in order to improve their or their camps’ chances in the 2022 electoral battle, or to appear to be so in order to get more campaign funds.
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