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Opinion

‘Tolerance of corruption?’

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

It is within President Digong Duterte’s power and prerogative to order his Cabinet officials or any member of the executive branch not to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee without his permission.

The Supreme Court would back him up on this issue.

The High Tribunal has ruled that the appearance of executive officials before investigating panels of the Senate or the House of Representatives needs to have the President’s approval.

This, in essence, is what I gathered from Sen. Frank Drilon in a phone interview on Friday, Oct. 1, over Digong’s advice to his officials that they may ignore the summons to appear at the Blue Ribbon hearings.

However, Drilon, a former secretary of justice, said that the President would be overstepping his power if he bars private persons from answering the Senate’s summons.

One of the private individuals being investigated by the Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Sen. Dick Gordon, is former presidential economic adviser and friend Michael Yang.

Drilon said Mr. Duterte would lose the support of the public and the legal battle as well if he advises Yang, a Mainland Chinese, not to answer the Senate summons.

Digong, said the Senate minority floor leader, could not afford to lose the people’s support, as he is running for vice president in the 2022 elections.

Digong is too smart a lawyer and politician to overreach his executive power if I know him well.

There are reports that Yang, cooped up in a hotel in Davao City, was reportedly being guarded by some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG). Let’s hope that the reports are false.

Things would really come to a head if the PSG would prevent agents of the Senate sergeant-at-arms from arresting Yang to bring him to Manila to personally face the Blue Ribbon committee.

Yang has been found lying through his teeth at the virtual hearing, when he said he didn’t lend money to Pharmally. Its officials said he did.

Pharmally – under fire for bagging billions of pesos in contracts to supply the government with facemasks, face shields and personal protective equipment – was found to have an initial capital of only P625,000.

Pharmally’s director, Linconn Ong, is in jail at the Senate building on contempt citation, in part, for refusing to divulge to the Blue Ribbon panel how much money Yang lent to his firm.

Going back to Drilon’s statement that the President would lose the battle for public opinion on the Pharmally issue, the public perception – rightly or wrongly – is that Yang is a drug trafficker.

It would do well for the President to listen to the advice of Sen. Francis Tolentino, his strong ally in the Upper House, to refrain from defending Pharmally officials and Yang.

To paraphrase Tolentino, Digong’s defense of his friend Yang and Pharmally might be misconstrued by the public as “tolerance of corruption” instead of a “measure of what friendship is.”

*      *      *

Bloomberg’s findings that the Philippines is the worst place to live in amid the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to the government.

Bloomberg’s website delivers business and financial news around the world.

The country is losing the battle to contain the contagious deadly disease because of inadequate testing, scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines and the longest and most stringent lockdown in the world.

As a result, most businesses have closed down, millions of people have lost their jobs or are temporarily out of work, rendering the economy in tatters.

The Philippines had the second worst positive test rate in Bloomberg’s COVID-19 resilience ranking of the best and the worst places to be in the current world crisis.

Undetected infection is highly possible because the government is only testing the sickest patients.

Even if people want to get vaccinated, there is a pitiful lack of vaccines, said Bloomberg.

In my humble opinion, here are two reasons the country is lagging behind others in containing COVID-19: 1) a retired general is heading the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) instead of a medical professional; and 2) the private sector is banned from importing vaccines without the approval from the IATF.

An example of the second reason was when a group of businessmen headed by Enrique Razon imported 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines; the government secured 13 million doses, with only 7 million going to the private sector.

The government should not have taken the lion’s share of imported vaccines, which could have been used for private firm employees and their dependents.

The government could then concentrate on inoculating unemployed individuals, poor citizens and civil service officials and employees.

The proposed set-up would take a heavy load off the government in containing the deadly virus.

However, some government officials don’t want to disturb the status quo as they’re earning oodles and oodles of money from the importation and sale of products related to COVID-19 prevention.

*      *      *

Heard from the grapevine:

Agents from the Bureau of Customs have lately been raiding stores selling imported shoes, bags, clothes and toys – even if those items passed through customs.

The sellers of the items bought the goods from importers who have paid duties and taxes for them.

The going rate for being spared the raid is reportedly P300,000; otherwise, the goods are confiscated and resold by the raiders, according to very reliable sources.

The corrupt customs agents have earned hundreds of millions of pesos from the venture.

Perhaps Customs Commissioner Leonardo Guerrero doesn’t know what his subalterns are doing.

*      *      *

Joke! Joke! Joke!

An American tourist always patronizes an exotic restaurant in Madrid that serves a dish made from bull testicles from a nearby bullfighting stadium.

But on one visit, the American complained to the restaurant owner: the servings were tiny.

The owner says, “But señor, it’s not always the bull that loses.”

PRESIDENT DUTERTE
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