A Catholic bishop in the northern Philippines blasted the government’s alleged corruption in its pandemic response, calling it “despicable.”
“We cannot but be appalled by credible reports about dishonesty, graft and malfeasance in scandalous proportions, particularly because these despicable acts exploited the fears of our people occasioned by the COVID pandemic,” read a “pastoral admonition” issued by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, north of Manila, on October 22.
The letter titled “Thou Shall Not Steal!” urged the faithful “to protest these acts of perfidy as vocally and persistently as possible.”
“There can be no room for neutrality,” said Archbishop Villegas. “Between good and evil, there is no middle ground, and whoever is unwilling to condemn blatant injustice becomes its enabler.”
“Whoever will not indict the thief becomes complicit with him!” read the archbishop’s letter.
The archbishop issued the letter in the wake of the Philippine Senate investigation into alleged anomalies in the appropriation of funds for the purchase of medical equipment for use during the pandemic.
“In the name of God, I admonish all who serve in the prosecution service to see to the prosecution of those who are liable for these egregious offenses against our people, who have enriched themselves at a time of want and of suffering, without fear and favor,” said Archbishop Villegas.
“It has often been said – and it bears repetition – that there is nothing that deters crime and wrongdoing more than the certainty of prosecution and punishment!” he added.
Earlier this week, doctors, health professionals, students, and people’s organizations, marched to the Senate to condemn the “premeditated plunder” of COVID-19 funds.
The group calling itself the Solidarity of Health Advocates and Professionals for a Unified Plan to defeat COVID-19 accused top government officials of facilitating the misappropriation of funds.
Erratic, irregular awarding of contracts
According to the group Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, national and local government agencies awarded Php65.19 billion worth of supply contracts from pandemic-response funds from March 2020 to September 2021.
On average, government agencies were disbursing about Php4.07 billion in supply contracts per month, or Php135.6 million per day, during the 16-month period.
The group said that by all indications, the contracts were awarded in a “rushed, erratic, and in many instances irregular, manner to only a few suppliers evidently favored by some procuring agencies.”
“Curiously, too, a significant number of the contracts covered goods and equipment that could not pass as pandemic-response items at all,” added the group.
In all, of the 22,000 awarded supply contracts enrolled in the Government Procurement Policy Board database as of Sept. 8, 2021, at least Php27.4 billion or 42 percent went to the top 30 suppliers.
Data showed that a total of 7,267 suppliers applied to get contracts, but most of them lost out to the top 30 suppliers that snared most of the contracts yet represent just 0.4 percent of the total suppliers’ pool.
The Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) database yielded a few more million-peso contracts for supposedly pandemic-response projects that some of the same top suppliers in the database had also won.
The coalition said the “luckiest” of the lot were the top 10 suppliers led by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which bagged Php18.8 billion or nearly a third — 29 percent — of the total supply contracts awarded.
Pharmally bagged a total of Php10.85-billion supply contracts.
Priests, lay leaders urged to conscientize people
“In the name of God, I admonish all who sit in judgment in our courts of law to be truly instruments of the vindication of our people’s rights,” he said.
“God has granted you a participation in his power as judge over peoples. Do justice in his name and allow not the scales of justice to be tilted in favor of power, wealth and the enticements of prestige,” said the prelate.
He also admonished “all who have profited from these scandalous deals and iniquitous transactions to return to the Lord who is rich in mercy and abounding in forgiveness.”
“Restitute what is not yours and what belongs to the people. The Lord knows and He sees! Show mercy on those who are already impoverished by life’s trials, and the Lord will be merciful to you!” he said.
Archbishop Villegas called on all priests and lay leaders “to engage our people in the process of ‘conscientization’” by making them aware of “the wrongs done them and recognizing them as wrong.”
“For indeed, one of the saddest things that has befallen us, is a dreadful national familiarization with graft and corruption that they no longer shock and disturb us!” said the prelate.
He said call of synodality to engage civil society in the journey of the Church “is exactly what this admonition is for.”
The Synod on Synodality, opened by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their dioceses.