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Opinion

Government crooks feast on COVID-19 crisis

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

We smell something rotten when our President would rather defend foreign dealers of overpriced equipment and supplies needed to contain the pandemic than take up the cudgels for fellow Filipinos reeling from the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus.

While plain folk are dying of the virus or sinking into poverty, big-time crooks oozing with confidence are exploiting the pandemic to amass dirty millions from purchases of items needed to address the public health crisis that has infected 2,455,000 Pinoys so far.

The Senate public inquiry into purchases of overpriced and poor-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) has released a nauseating stink, not just a whiff, of corruption in the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

We see indications of corruption and ineptitude in the experimental lockdowns, the redundant use of face shields whose expiry dates have been tampered with, as well as the thriving of alien suppliers who are low on capital but high in influence.

One wonders what binds President Duterte to alien businessmen whose intentions and integrity he vouches for by reflex even before a no-nonsense investigation into their operation in the country is completed.

Media colleague Tony Lopez, for instance, has noted: “Duterte and (Health Secretary Francisco) Duque give priority to the police and military with pay, promotion, protection, positions, perks and pension for life with guaranteed inflation. They are after all licensed to kill and killing is a major state policy.

“And the nurses and doctors who are licensed to save lives and safeguard your health so you don’t die early? Manigas kayo!

“Did you know that the state now owes the police and military, active and retired, P11 trillion in benefits? That will be all our Gross Domestic Product at the rate the economy is sinking.

“And if the economy continues to sink, the more the police and military need to be coddled.”

We think Duterte need not be overly touchy about the legislature, a coequal body, exercising an oversight function, in aid of legislation, reviewing how public funds it has appropriated for Executive agencies are being used.

His being too sensitive, to the point of his threatening senators merely performing their duties, only gives rise to unhealthy suspicion that he is covering up for something. If everything is in order, as he claims, he should even cooperate with congressional inquiries.

Expiry date tampering: A swindle

In its hearing Friday, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, the lawmakers and the public watching online were jolted when a supervisor of supplier Pharmally Pharmaceutical admitted that they replaced the expiry labels on their face shields.

Krizle Grace Mago, Pharmally’s lead staff for government projects, said she was instructed to tell their warehouse workers to change the production date on their medical-grade face shields. Changing the date of production moves to a later date an item’s expiry date.

Pressed to speed up procurement, the Department of Health has had to settle for a short six-month expiry, but it has been accepting some face shields good only for two months. It turned out that even the two-month period had been tampered with by Pharmally.

When asked by Gordon in the inquiry if the changing of the stamped expiry to a later date amounted to swindling the government, Mago said, “I believe that is the case.”

“That is something I cannot deny,” Mago said after Sen. Risa Hontiveros played a video statement made under oath by an unidentified and heavily shrouded warehouse worker that they had changed production date stickers on their face shields.

With that explosive insider disclosure, Mago is now being offered security protection by the Senate. One can never tell what drastic steps some people might take to protect the last two minutes of a productive game with a friendly administration.

The warehouse worker who has been with Pharmally since August said they replaced the stickers on the face shields bearing the production date of 2020 with new stickers with a 2021 production date.

The worker added that the 2020-dated face shields were substandard and mostly distorted, dirty, discolored and soiled. He said a leak in the warehouse had contributed to their deterioration.

*      *      *

Sen. Francis Pangilinan disclosed that the PS-DBM had bought test kits at P1,720 per unit, almost double the price quoted by the original manufacturer, and accepted delivery even if their expiry date was just two months away.

This was confirmed by PS-DBM inspector Mervin Ian Tanquintic, who had examined the goods together with a representative of the health department.

He said: “I noted the expiration of the kits that were delivered, (but) because of the need for the item, per DOH, they were acceptable even if they had a short shelf life.”

The delivery was one of 14 tranches of 2,000 “A*STAR Fortitude” kits, with 200 tests per kit, for a total price of P688 million.

Pangilinan said that he had Food and Drug Administration documents showing that two months after the PS-DBM bought the kits, it purchased in June 2020 the same test kits from Maersk Pte. Ltd., the Singaporean manufacturer, for only P925 per test.

Duque has said the department changed to six months its original requirement of 24-36-month shelf life for test kits because manufacturers told the DOH that the only test kits available did not have a shelf life of more than six months.

It turned out that 7,925 of the test kits purchased, which were good for 371,794 tests, expired unused, equivalent to around P550 million wasted.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

COVID-19 OVERPRICED PPE
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