Caught red-handed, Duterte goes from red-tagging to Red Cross-ing

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Huwag na huwag talaga akong makaririnig na corruption, [not] even a whiff or whisper,” said President Duterte during the early days of his presidency in 2016. “I will fire you or place you somewhere.”

Through a memorandum, President Duterte recently barred his Cabinet officials from participating in the Senate blue ribbon committee’s probe of government transactions with Pharmally, a foreign company incorporated in 2019 with a measly P600,000 capital that was financed by Michael Yang, his former economic adviser. The probe has uncovered government overspending for Pharmally-supplied products, including face masks, face shields, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

According to Duterte, he cannot allow the “blatant disrespect of resource persons” at the Senate hearings, which he has labeled as witch-hunts meant to blemish his administration’s (already dirty) name. Instead of participating in the probe, he said his execs should “focus all their time and effort on the implementation of measures to address the current state of calamity on account of Covid-19, and in carrying out their other functions.”

For someone who once pledged to cleanse government of anomalies and sack officials found even with just a “whiff of corruption,” Duterte is contradicting himself by invoking omertà. Mafia boss-style, Duterte seems afraid of his tracks being traced, so he goes the extreme and issues a gag order as he now attempts to tear down the Senate’s reputation by throwing tirades and threats against it.

Classic Duterte! Like how he declined participation in the International Criminal Court’s probe of his drug war, the president once again decided to shut up and hope for the issue to pass. The Philippines has unfortunately turned into “A Quiet Place.” Like in the 2018 movie, Filipinos are now forced to live in eerie silence as a blind but noise-sensitive creature wreaks havoc. Here, the monster is Duterte, who is blind to his own government’s corruption and ultra-sensitive to criticism.

Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque claimed that the president’s gag order was “based on the premise that the principle of separation of powers requires mutual respect among the different branches of government and in view of Article II, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution on the protection and promotion by the State of the right to health of the people.” But as Sen. Richard Gordon said, there is not an issue of national security, executive privilege, and diplomatic discussions in the Pharmally probe—what Duterte did was pure unconstitutional madness. 

Aiming to discredit the blue ribbon committee, Duterte has made its chair, Gordon, the target of his foul mouth. Thankfully, the Philippine Red Cross chief, who has been body-shamed, called a double agent and corrupt, and cussed at by Duterte, has maintained resistance to the “bully” president’s threats. Sadly it appears that it’s too easy for the president to label his enemies as corrupt as their records are public—after all, they cannot do the same to him as his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth have been restricted from the public since 2018.

Maybe it is because Duterte is wearing (and benefiting from) the overpriced Pharmally-supplied face masks: he seems to be unable to catch a whiff of corruption!

Maybe it is why a number of Filipinos, most since Martial Law, think being critical of government is dangerous. A Social Weather Stations (SWS) freedom of speech survey conducted from Sept. 12 to 16 found that only 42 percent of Pinoys agree with the statement, “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration.” Additionally, 45 percent of Pinoys think printing or broadcasting anything critical of Duterte’s administration, even if it was the truth, was dangerous. The SWS noted that the net agreement scores in its recent surveys were lower in all surveys except during the time of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

Duterte is doing the public a disservice with his mafia-like silence. It is embarrassing for such a proud macho and self-proclaimed anti-corruption advocate like Duterte to turn away from and treat probes into corruption like yesterday’s news. A reminder to Duterte: When you look at your government through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags. Corruption is all around you, Mr. President!

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