Pres. Duterte should order a sweeping probe of COVID-19 expenditures

Many ‘public servants’ occupying high positions in local government, as well as the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO), have a lot of explaining to do in the following days.

While their constituents were trying to make ends meet following the closure of businesses and the loss of jobs it entailed, some of our ‘honorable’ officials have been taking advantage of the population’s preoccupation with the community quarantine protocols.

With the savings left behind by their predecessors and the still untouched calamity fund plus the Bayanihan grants given by the national government, it became apparent soon enough that not even a sense of responsibility in this atmosphere of fear and anxiety would prevent them from stealing a portion of public funds.

Overpriced rice and relief goods, either split between friendly suppliers or given to one establishment willing enough to share half of the profits, have become the source of much-needed cash for elected officials.

Then there are the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), surgical masks, infrared thermometer scanners and various medical supplies needed by health workers and medical equipment, with quoted prices double or triple its expected retail value at the local level.

Some local government units even had the gall to bid out infrastructure projects during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), perhaps out of a need to honor the chief executives’ promise to their election backers.

The contract amounts involved are often in the millions, including a big one nearly P20 million worth that sent many residents’ tongues wagging.

Sure, receiving commissions from suppliers and contractors has become normal for mayors, governors and congressmen, who are understandably just recouping their considerable investments in buying votes in last year’s elections.

But profiting from such transactions during a national state of calamity is utterly reprehensible. Public officials involved have certainly lost their delicadeza, taking food right out of the mouths of their suffering people or making sure there are very few PPEs that frontliners could use in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Rodrigo Duterte should not only focus on the overpriced test kits to be paid by PhilHealth but also include various transactions at the LGU level that, if taken together, would probably come up to a billion pesos.

Such an action would at least calm down majority of Filipinos who feel that, while the quarantine is needed to stem the spread of coronavirus, the government or at least the unsavory part of it is unduly taking advantage of the crisis to suppress freedoms and steal from public coffers at the same time.

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