The once-a-week president showed up again on August 25 when government aired the president’s public address during his meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in Davao City the day before, August 24. President Rodrigo Duterte has lingered in Davao for three weeks—some noting this to be his longest stay in his hometown instead of his office in Manila—and have been only seen once a week for his public address, while people continue to worry and speculate about his health; which does not look all too well.

On August 25 at 9am, Duterte started on the issue of corruption hounding the government funds spent on the pandemic, especially the funds from PhilHealth.

This is a deviation from his usual talk on the COVID-19 vaccine. Among the most recurring promises of Duterte during this time is the vaccine as his solve-all solution to the COVID-19 problem in the country, now top country in cases in Southeast Asia, moving away from Indonesia by 30,000+. However, the vaccine is not there yet and won’t be mass produced until next year by countries in the race, which the country is not producing and which we have yet to make a loan to acquire.

In a change of tone, Duterte said, “You know ganito ‘yan mga kababayan ko, there is no magic wand or if you want a stronger statement a — the magic bullet, a silver bullet, that will solve our problems. May sinubukan tayo since we are not perfect.”

Duterte said all funds spent for the pandemic would be accounted and he will be the one to endorse to be prosecuted the corrupt people in his government. He even said he would spend the last two years of his term to work on the cases of the people involved in the PhilHealth problem.

He said he would ask the reports to be published in three newspapers of general circulation and to publish the bidders or bid winners and their contact information.

Duterte vouched for his men and the COVID-19 funds being corruption free. This team of his, he said, would ensure the people’s money used for government’s COVID-19 response is corruption-free.

“Itong COVID Bayanihan 1 and 2 malinis ito. Ang humahawak sa itaas nito si isang ahensya, integrated agencies. Pero ang sa pera ang — [How do I say this?] — the people that I have tasked, ‘yung binigyan ko ng responsibilidad pagtingin nito na para mahusay ang takbo at walang nakukurakot na pera, ang sa taas nito ay si General Lorenzana. Siya ‘yung pinakamataas dito sa ‘yung formal ano namin. Then it’s Secretary Año, General Año, then it’s General Galvez, Secretary Galvez,” he said.

He also said he has long been in government, old and about to retire, so there was no use for him to engage in corruption.

“Matagal na kami sa gobyerno, magpa-retire na lang, bakit pa namin pagsayangan? Kakaunting panahon na lang ang naiwan so walang — walang — walang ganang — wala nang ganang kumain. May pera ka naman, hindi ka na makakain kay sabi ng doktor huwag kang kumain ng taba kasi mamatay ka. Ikaw Duterte, huwag ka nang uminom kasi ‘yang Barrett mo nearing stage one ka sa cancer. So hindi na rin. Si Bebot ‘yung paa ewan ko kung puputulin ‘yan o hindi. Puro na may sakit so what do we get if we…? T*** i***** ‘yan. Wala na,” said Duterte.

He inadvertently spoke about his state of health in his bid to provide more persuasions and assurances that corruption cannot be tenable or would not happen in his government or during COVID-19—despite that it has

This promise to stamp out corruption is not new to the people. Duterte has promised since running for elections that “corruption must stop.” He said even a whiff or a whisper or corruption, he would send officials packing—but Philhealth, especially its top officials who are his appointees, former Army general Ricardo Morales (PhilHealth’s president) and Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (PhilHealth’s ex-officio chairman).

The IATF meeting showed the public that Duterte is seriously affected by the PhilHealth scandal and the corruption in the government regarding COVID-19 funds. However, heads have yet to roll and top PhilHealth officials have been allowed to leave or be excused from Congressional hearings due to “long-standing health issues” while some were allowed to leave on their own volition by resigning, “not because of the corruption mess” but because of “personal reasons.”

Duterte is accountable for hundreds of billions of funds, either the “re-aligned budget” of the executive departments and the government “loans” for COVID-19. But we have not talked about the billions of “donations” from the private sector.

On August 2, Duterte issued a memorandum ordering Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to form a task force to investigate the anomalies at PhilHealth. The Philhealth “fraudulent schemes” involved P15 billion pesos in recent times and around P200-billion over the years, mostly from the agency’s reimbursement mechanisms and its computerization.

On August 6, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica urged the public to file complaints “including those connected with the Social Amelioration Program and other coronavirus-related programs.” The PACC mandate is to investigate and file charges not only to recommend for suspension or dismissal from government service.

The Duterte government has all the mechanisms to solve corruption involving public officials. If it wants to.

Duterte knew the grave problem on corruption in the government. He himself had been part of what others would consider graft and corruption, but Duterte does not see it that way.

Duterte had already admitted before that when he was mayor of Davao City, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, who claimed to be the “appointed son of god,” “gifted him with three properties at Woodridge Park, a Nissan Safari, a Ford Expedition, a medical trip to the United States, and so many things.”

He said before that “Police can accept cash or gifts, and even engage in earning extra income from video-karera (horse racing video machine games) operations.”

He also said before the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, “Private contractors, should pad project costs by 10-50 percent over the actual cost of public works like roads and bridges.”

Padding project costs of “roads and bridges” would be also applicable in the purchase of testing kits and medical equipment for COVID-19. The medical companies would not only cover their own profits but also have sufficient amount to cover kickbacks to government officials as “as standard operating procedure” or SOP.

Duterte’s pronouncements permit “thievery of public money.”

The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman had informed the public before that “20 percent of the government’s total budget appropriation…lost to corruption annually, ranking us the sixth most corrupt among Asia-Pacific countries.”

Who will trust Duterte that he can solve corruption in his government?

 

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