By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
with additional research from Aira Siguenza and Jasmin Espinas
MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has once said that he will not tolerate even a whiff of corruption but the stench of anomalies, described as the “most immoral of its kind” has remained in the government bureaucracy, even with a raging pandemic.
Allegations of corruption surfaced, including the nearly P124.65 million ($2.5 billion) unaccounted public funds from nine government agencies, per initial findings of state auditors, and controversial government deals such as that with Pharmally and the Malampaya gas project.
This amount alone – P124.65 million ($2.5 billion) – could have been used to provide 12.4 million pandemic-hit families with much-needed aid amounting to P10,000 ($200). The P11-billion ($215.45 million) worth of government contracts with Pharmally, meanwhile, could have been allotted for production subsidy to 73,000 farmers.
Instead of looking into the allegations, Duterte defended Pharmally as the Philippine senate proceeded with its investigation. Meanwhile, a business tycoon, who was among the president’s campaign contributors in the 2016 presidential elections, is set to take over the Malampaya gas, one of the country’s main sources of energy.
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In the 2020 Corruption Perception Index report, the country received a low score of 34 out of 100 points from corruption watchdog Transparency International, placing the country at 115th spot out of 180 countries. The COVID-19 response in the Philippines, the group said, has been characterized “by abusive enforcement and major violations of human rights and media freedom.”
In September this year, the Philippine government launched a new multi-agency anti-corruption body. This supposedly draws lessons from the government’s “whole of nation” approach in its anti-communist and anti-illegal drug campaigns as it gathers together the anti-corruption efforts of different government agencies.
However, Joshua San Pedro, co-convenor of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health, said corruption will persist until a comprehensive public health care is established and there are no more gaps in social services that may be taken advantage of and profited from.
In the aftermath of the onslaught of Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai), the president said in a televised speech that the government’s funds are now “immensely depleted” and that “money was really wiped out” purportedly due to the country’s COVID-19 response. This is the second time during the pandemic that President Duterte said that the government no longer has money for food and aid for the people.
Meanwhile, the government’s health insurance Philhealth continues to face numerous issues as the country grapples with the pandemic. Among these include its limited coverage of the hospital bills of COVID-19 patients and the recent announcement of hospitals to disengage with Philhealth due to unpaid hospital claims. This despite Philhealth getting the lion’s share of this year’s health budget, amounting to $1.47 million.
San Pedro noted that the issue of private hospitals disengaging with Philhealth goes beyond their unpaid claims but rather “if the people are genuinely receiving health services due to them, which is obviously not the case.”
Fighting, resisting corruption and tyranny
Babae Laban sa Korupsyon (Women Against Corruption), a coalition of women and organizations against corruption, said there seems to be no end to corruption allegations under the present administration, adding that “with its monopoly on power, this government is plundering the country’s resources with impunity reminiscent of the Marcos dictatorship of the 70s.”
Women’s rights activist Gert Libang, one of its convenors, told Bulatlat that elected officials and high government officials use government machinery to plunder funds and cover up their tracks.
“Fascism clears the path for more corruption as it gives protection to corrupt officials. The Marcos Martial law experience gives much proof of this. The same happened during former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” she said.
Babae Laban sa Korupsyon has since been using their social media platforms for their anti-corruption advocacy. Health workers, on the other hand, have been pushing for the passing of House Bill 9515 or the Free National Public Health System Act, which San Pedro said will provide free health services to the people and, at the same time, rid it of corruption.
He said, “(corrupt officials) feel like they can evade accountability. Corruption will reign under a tyrannical rule. Instead of carrying out a human rights-based approach to dealing with the pandemic, they have resorted to doing what they think was ‘okay.’ Institutions did not matter to them.” (RVO)