When President Duterte announced that one of the presidential candidates is a “cocaine user,” he was most likely making a ploy to distract our attention away from the more important issues hounding the administration.
According to political economist Ruben Durante from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, this strategy of distraction is commonly used by US presidents to prevent the media and the public from scrutinizing controversial matters.
The real pressing issues afflicting the Philippines are the following:
The irregular transfer of P42 billion from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in partnership with former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao.
The Pharmally “swindle” that gave this relatively unknown company with a registered capital of only P625,000 some P8.7 billion in COVID-19 supply contracts. Pharmally supplied the DOH with millions of overpriced and substandard surgical face masks, face shields, and test kits. And it turned out that Pharmally is owned by close associates of Mr. Duterte, including Michael Yang, the President’s former “special economic adviser.” Lao, meanwhile, was responsible for awarding the huge contracts to Pharmally.
In less than a year of operations, Pharmally executives became the owners of several luxury cars. An P8.5-million 2019 Porsche 911 Turbo S belonged to corporate secretary Mohit Dargani. His sister Twinkle got a P25-million 2021 Lamborghini. Another Pharmally officer, Linconn Ong, acquired a P13.5 million 2021 Porsche Carrera, while his 2021 Lexus RCF was worth P5.9 million.
Mohit and Twinkle Dargani were soon fugitives hiding in Davao City, trying to escape the Senate probe into their company finances. They hired a private plane and attempted to escape to Malaysia but were caught and apprehended at the Davao airport by a team of the Senate’s Office of the Sergeant-At-Arms.
The Malampaya gas field takeover by Davao businessman Dennis Uy. This is probably the biggest anomaly of government officials in the Department of Energy. The fact that Mr. Uy is a well-known contributor to the campaign kitty of President Duterte must have made Secretary Alfonso Cusi look the other way as the dubious transaction was consummated.
We worked with Shell Malampaya’s reputation management team for eight years from 2000 to 2008 and we know the critical role of the Malampaya deepwater gas-to-power project. Malampaya provides almost one-third (30 percent) of the energy requirements of the entire island of Luzon. It is feared that the gas field could be completely depleted by early next year and may pose energy problems during the election period.
The continuing assault by China Coast Guard on Filipino civilian vessels in the West Philippine sea. This is another issue that deserves immediate attention. We have not done enough to protect our maritime properties from China’s territorial aggression.
These are the issues the Filipino people should vigilantly focus on; they should not be distracted by presidential eccentricities. We should know by now that Mr. Duterte is skilled at deflecting issues to his advantage. Instead of answering the corruption allegations brought out by Sen. Richard Gordon’s Senate blue ribbon committee investigation into Pharmally, Mr. Duterte turned the tables and attacked Gordon, calling him overweight and accusing him of using Philippine Red Cross funds for his election campaign. He threatened to charge Gordon at the Ombudsman if the senator did not return an alleged P86 million disallowed expense when Gordon was chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority decades ago. He also issued an order banning Cabinet officials from attending the Senate investigation hearings.
Mr. Duterte insisted there were no irregularities in the purchase of medical supplies from Pharmally, and once again said he would resign if there was any proven graft. When Gordon subpoenaed Yang and Lao to attend the Senate hearings, Mr. Duterte came to their defense, prompting Gordon to voice out the question the public is likewise asking: “Now, you are the one defending these people. But what I don’t understand is why are you the one answering for them?”
Charlie Agatep is the chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep, a marketing communication agency based in Ortigas Center.
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