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Opinion

Hide-and-seek

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Come out, come out, wherever you are…

President Duterte himself should be sending that message to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. official Krizle Grace Mago.

Dropping out of sight is usually seen as flight – especially after a damning Senate testimony against those in power – and can only reinforce perceptions that the testimony is true.

In the administration of Tokhang and Double Barrel, it also raises fears that Mago is currently detained and being given an offer she can’t refuse, and might soon re-emerge to change her story. She will soon get this chance, if she bows to the summons issued by the House of Representatives. If she tells a different story to the Clearing House, she could face perjury charges from the Senate. But maybe she will consider this as the lesser evil.

If she did nothing wrong, Krizle Mago should come out of seclusion. Duterte’s mouthpiece, after all, has brushed aside her testimony as the story of just one witness, so how much harm can she do?

At least the Senate still seems to have the warehouse worker. As we in the Zoom peanut gallery know, Mago had confirmed the bodegero’s Senate testimony that on her instructions, he had altered the expiration dates on medical grade face shields sold by Pharmally to the government.

Mago had also testified that her company bagged multibillion-peso medical supply contracts with the government through the right connections.

She said the expiry alteration was done on orders of Pharmally corporate secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani. He denied giving the order and said Mago must have pointed to him out of sheer habit, because she usually took orders from him.

*      *      *

Intriguingly, Duterte’s alter egos outside Malacañang had better responses to the testimonies of Mago and the bodegero.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation was helping the Senate find Mago. Let’s hope the NBI search is for real.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said his department would investigate the tampering with the expiry dates on the face shields. If this is established, he said Pharmally would have to provide “restitution” to the government for the tampered products.

The President should consult his health chief first before ranting about medical supplies. In his weekly address to the nation on Monday, Duterte sneered at the expiry tampering story, pointing out that plastic could last a long time, so how could the face shields have an expiration date?

Duque had to explain in public that medical grade face shields are lined with foam on the upper rim – that band we see that is usually colored blue on the face shields worn by health frontliners. As is usual with foam, the band deteriorates over time, hence the expiry date, Duque explained. And hence the Department of Health (DOH) investigation into the bodegero’s story, as confirmed by the missing Mago.

Reacting to the tampering story, the Filipino Nurses United expressed concern that substandard face shields and other personal protective equipment issued by the government might have exposed healthcare workers to COVID infection and, for some, caused death.

Health officials have denied this, but at this point, there is no way of establishing if the health frontliners’ concern is baseless.

Duterte, who now regularly devotes at least half of his report to the nation to ranting against the Senate Blue Ribbon probe and its members led by Richard Gordon, was unmoved by Duque’s explanation on the medical grade face shields. Holding up one such shield, the President asked: “How can it have an expiration?”

*      *      *

Duque said the DOH was proceeding with its probe, through the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, into the 89 percent false-positive RT-PCR tests conducted by the Philippine Red Cross molecular laboratory in Subic. That’s 45 out of a batch of 48 samples, out of the total 122,000 processed by that PRC lab between July 1, 2020 and Sept. 3, 2021, and out of over four million RT-PCR tests conducted by the Red Cross so far.

By all means, the DOH should find out what accounted for that 89 percent false-positive test results. But it would enhance credibility if the DOH would also conduct similar probes on other entities providing RT-PCR tests – hospitals, medical diagnostic centers – and charging fees of up to P12,000. Incidentally, what’s the batting average for accuracy of the RITM’s swab tests?

It’s the Blue Ribbon committee, not just certain individuals, that is investigating Pharmally. Even if Gordon and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon are investigated by agencies under Duterte, the work of the Blue Ribbon should continue. Other senators could step in if Gordon decides to stop his participation in the probe.

Having announced his bid for the vice presidency in 2022, Duterte’s accusations of investigation in aid of election against the Blue Ribbon members ring hollow.

Stonewalling and the disappearance of key personalities in the probe can only heighten perceptions that ugly truth is being suppressed.

The whereabouts of Michael Yang, who has been passionately defended by Duterte in the Pharmally mess, are unknown. This brings to mind another missing Duterte supporter, Cebu-based drug trafficking suspect Peter Lim, who remains untouchable despite being high on the wanted list of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency since the start of Oplan Tokhang.

Such disappearances fuel suspicions that the campaigns against illegal drugs and corruption are top priorities of the administration… unless the suspect has the right connections. Then the person gets to bag billions of pesos in supply contracts with the government, even during the nation’s worst public health emergency.

PRESIDENT DUTERTE
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