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Profiteering in a pandemic

12:30 AM September 24, 2021

Profiteering in the worst of conditions is not a new heinous crime. Many in history have been rightly accused and publicly condemned for it. In different countries, laws have been enacted to precisely declare profiteering as a crime. Let us take the definition of profiteering by Merriam-Webster dictionary and understand that all other definitions carry the same spirit and content:

“Profiteering is the act or activity of making an unreasonable profit on the sale of essential goods especially during times of emergency.”

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Let me state from the very beginning that I am emotionally affected by the illnesses and deaths of people I know from Covid-19. I know, too, that hundreds of thousands more, especially those without the voice or means to express their grief, share the same sense of deep sadness. They had family and friends die of Covid-19, and even many who survived still suffer dramatically disrupted lives, health wise and financially.

The collective grief and pain are very raw right now when public reports reveal the possibility of profiteering by greedy and evil individuals in positions of power. Worse, these individuals in authority have ready accomplices in the private sector, ready to aid and abet the commission of what can be regarded as heinous crimes in a pandemic. It is not strange that grief and pain is turning to resentment and anger. Profiteering in a pandemic where more than 2 million have been infected and 36,000 have died generates an instinctive revulsion.

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There are many questions that remain unanswered in the Pharmally case where billions of pesos were rushed to be spent yet substantial amounts of what were purchased ended up undistributed and stockpiled in warehouses. But even before the questions are fully answered, whether by admission or by investigative work, the stench already offends the national and cultural character of Filipinos. It is not a whiff, it is a powerful spray of bad odor that leads all who smell it to ask, “Where is this coming from?”

The main difference between justice and the practice of law is that the first is divine and human, while the second is literary and limited translation. Farting, or emitting gas from the anus, is real yet unprovable in a court of law. The evidence is fleeting and quickly disappears. Yet, it was as real as it could get. Smelling the stench of released gas from the anus, or a fart, is divinely ordained and human yet not literary and extremely difficult to describe in translation.

While the law will take the necessary time to determine the reality of the stench of profiteering up to the conviction of those responsible and their accomplices in government and the private sector, we are all offended by what we smell. The effort of an investigation by the Senate releases more of the stench, as much as the investigators can discover and then share with the public. The continuing foul odor effectively converts curiosity to discovery and outrage. Which is what it should do – outrage all of us and express this outrage in ways that cannot be swept aside, as in a national ostracization that may be more severe and long-lasting than simple prison terms.

Our curiosity will lead us to ask questions beyond the Pharmally transactions, again a natural development when curiosity marches on to investigation and discovery. Contrary to what some try to peddle, this curiosity is not politically motivated; rather, it is the same curiosity that pushes children to learn and discover. Truly, curiosity is not as easy to kill, and grows faster when suppressed by fear. Because when the magnitude and character of abuse may reach proportions of billions, there is a paper trail that has built up along the way.

Soon, we may be curious to how much of the ayuda was stolen by unscrupulous local officials, whether enough of them have been charged and how they are being punished. Soon, we may be curious about test centers, how they were awarded (or why some were not awarded to deserving business outfits), what their true costs are and how much they have been charging all along.

Soon, we may be curious why allegedly critical medicines in the treatment of Covid-19 were priced the way they were, especially by private doctors and hospitals, while DOH stood by and did nothing to stop the nefarious practice. The fact that, much later, the scandalous prices were brought to fore because of a very cheap medicine being aggressively discouraged by DOH and the same doctors who were mute on the profiteering; that DOH did try to put price ceilings only proved they were complicit for many months.

I know that the Senate investigation is currently focused on the Pharmally case and that more key information has yet to be extracted, but so much more is yet to be exposed to the public. And it should not be the main responsibility of the Senate but that of the Executive Branch led by the President who declared time and again his committed stance against even a whiff of corruption among his people and the bureaucracy. We, too, the people of the republic, as concerned and good citizens, must lend our voices and our personal efforts to report the corrupt practices of government officials and employees within the scope of our knowledge.

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Covid-19 is here to provoke a kind of change that we have refused to undertake under easier circumstances. This is not political, this is evolution. It is a life process to shed or discard what has long weighed us down, what has long polluted our morals, what has long distorted our ethics and values, what has long been the ugly legacy we leave to the younger generations. The worst of this is profiteering under emergencies, what with its inhuman overtones.

Corruption is not a political game; it is a universal temptation. Both individuals in the private sectors as well as leaderships of various regimes have wallowed in it. It’s time to fight it even harder.

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TAGS: Glimpses, Jose Ma. Montelibano, pandemic, profiteering
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