The Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the P42 billion Pharmally deal has uncovered a surprising revelation that former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang was involved in this controversial contract. Succumbing to intense questioning by Senator Richard Gordon and the other members of the committee on Friday, company executives grudgingly admitted that their operations had been financed by Yang.

The Pharmally contract was initially flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA), which noted the overpriced PPE supplies ordered by the Department of Budget (PS-DBM) at the behest of the Department of Health (DOH). The unfolding investigation would later show that Pharmally was a mere shell company with neither the expertise, financial capability, nor track record to be awarded such a contract.

How exactly Pharmally managed to bag this huge contract, as there were other bidders that were more qualified, remains to be clarified. The PS-DMB which awarded the contract contends there was no irregularity. But it is already fairly evident that the deal has something to do with Pharmally’s political connections to Malacañang.

Malacañang continues to stonewall the investigation, and President Rodrigo Duterte is trying to pick a personal fight with the senators. He has threatened to get back at committee chair Richard Gordon with a threat to ban the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) that he chairs.

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So much for the “whiff of corruption” the president promised to stamp out not too long ago. The Pharmally deal is beyond a mere whiff and is now an open case study of cronyism under the present administration. The response of the President, uncalled for and unwarranted as such, invites chaos and instability stoked by the failure of the government’s check and balance mechanisms.

There is already a clear indication that Malacañang will fight tooth and nail to prevent the Senate from digging deeper into this anomalous transaction that has all the elements of the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The outstanding questions that remain evoke curious narratives: How did the DOH set up the contract to favor Pharmally? Why did it have to go through the PS-DBM? Why was there no due diligence in the bidding process that supposedly took place to find out the obvious fact that Pharmally, being uncapitalized, should not have even qualified? Were there really actual deliveries? Are there other hidden issues behind these transactions? Are there similar cases of favoritism in awarding other contracts?

A stronger democracy would have allowed these questions to be answered, the ax to fall where they may, and a country to move forward with hard lessons learned. But it already seems unlikely to unravel under the current dispensation.

As the tension builds, something has to give. The public can only hope that this anomalous Pharmally deal merely becomes a corruption issue that will be accounted for in next year’s elections.

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