Like clockwork, we get bombarded with bad news about the Duterte administration every start of the workweek. We can’t really blame Filipinos for becoming desensitized to news about corruption allegations, state violence, and unprofessionalism from state officials.
But remaining in the know is still important, so here’s what’s happening so far: This week, the PH government is in hot water as the Senate’s probe into the Department of Health’s (DOH) handling of pandemic funds continues and ICC released a report on its war on drugs investigation.
‘Overpriced’ pandemic supplies
Today, Aug. 31, President Rodrigo Duterte defended his former economic adviser Michael Yang after his name came up during a hearing held last Friday, Aug. 27 on “overpriced” pandemic supplies.
Senate blue ribbon committee chair Senator Richard Gordon showed a 2017 video of Yang introducing Pres. Duterte to officials from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. Previously, Senator Leila de Lima proposed a Senate inquiry into Yang’s alleged involvement in illegal drug trade and loan agreements with China during his term—which includes the P4.3 billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project.
The senate committee is currently investigating DOH’s transfer of P42 billion to the Department of Budget and Management – Procurement Service allocated to pandemic medical supplies, including allegedly overpriced items purchased from Pharmally.
“I’ll tell you something. Michael Yang has been in business here in the Philippines for 20 years. Nag-umpisa ’yan dito sa Davao… Hindi ’yan Intsik-Intsik na kinukuhanan ko ng pera. You disabuse your mind [of that],” Duterte said in (flimsy) defense of Yang. “Itong si Michael Yang, negosyante, ang karamihan nito pumasok sa bidding sa lahat ng negosyo dito sa Pilipinas. Akala ko ba we are inviting investors? That’s why I went to China several times to ask them to help us. Investments. ’Yung pera nila ibuhos muna nila dito para magkaroon tayo.” He also rebuked senators who are part of the investigation for “showing off.”
If you’re wondering who’s behind Pharmally, you’re not alone. Senators noted that the company’s CEO Huang Tzu Yen as well as treasurer and corporate secretary Mohit Dargani both listed fake addresses. Pricing its face masks at P27.72 per piece is enough to raise eyebrows, but the administration went ahead and signed P8.7 billion worth of contracts for COVID-19 supplies. When asked about the negotiations with Pharmally, former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao merely stated that there was no reason to suspect fraud since Chinese Embassy officials were present in their meetings.
‘One more step’ to ICC probe
If you’re feeling a bit of umay from DOH probes, you may be happy to hear that the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) war on drugs investigation is finally moving along. On Aug. 29, the ICC released a 30-page redacted report showing that 94 percent of 204 representations filed before its court supported a formal investigation of the crimes committed under Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Back in June, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally requested judicial authorization in June to investigate the crimes against humanity case filed against Duterte, after finishing its preliminary investigation.
Most families of drug war victims pushing for the ICC probe assert that the President had a hand in the killings. “He [Duterte] should be jailed. We do not need him to die or be killed. We want him to suffer in jail for what he is doing to our country, … [f]or the suffering he is giving to the people of this country and the powerless,” said one of the petitioners.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chair Neri Colmenares called it “one more step toward justice for the EJK (extrajudicial killings) victims” and urged the court to “decide soon as the killings and arrests continue.”