Graft to gaffe

Graft to gaffe

VOTERS don’t hoist into office just one man but that man’s entire team of functionaries filling in key posts to keep government machinery running smoothly. So claims author and former US President Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan—a claim that falls flat and bellies up when we consider how appointments to key posts in the Philippine government turn up appointees who seem to run amok rather than smooth.

Former health department head honcho and House lawmaker Janette Garin may serve as a case in point. Her appointment to that post raised the observer’s eyebrows and blood pressure.

Indeed, Garin is a scion of Iloilo’s powerful Tupas and Garin clans but political clout is not exactly an ingredient in the capacity to craft policy for the nation’s health needs. Pundits cite that her practice as a physician did not go beyond circumcision of children, and her expertise does not cover handling a pandemic like Ebola; suspicions linger that her appointment to the health portfolio is a result of horse-trading and political payback.

The acting health department chief drew flak for what observers cite as “an irresponsible political stunt” for breaching epidemiology and bio-hazard protocol in her visit to Caballo Island next to Corregidor where 133 Filipino peacekeepers repatriated from Liberia are on a 21-day quarantine. An Ebola outbreak is flaring like a bushfire in Liberia, racking up the highest reported case counts, with new cases hitting high numbers.

Garin and AFP chief of staff Gen. Pio Catapang flew to the quarantine site and mingled with returnee soldiers from the Ebola-wracked nation. Both wore no protective suits. They insist that chances of getting infected by the deadly Ebola virus—which can be transmitted via human contact, including handshakes– were too improbable.

Garin insists that she had talked with WHO experts before undertaking the Caballo Island visit with Catapang.

It turned out that two of the peacekeepers, as reports have it, turned sick and were diagnosed as ill from malaria, which exhibits symptoms similar to Ebola.

After that incursion into the quarantine area, Catapang was seen by television viewers shaking hands with the President during the defense department’s anniversary rites and Aquino’s Singapore send-off. Laymen can never tell if a contagion had spread—but we can see within 21 days which Ebola symptoms manifest.

Epidemic aside, Garin also needs to get a clean bill of health from graft complaints that hound her. Say, the Department of Justice has been dragging its feet on the P5-billion siphoned off the state-owned pork conduit National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) to bankroll the poll bid of at least 10 House of Representatives lawmakers in the 2007 midterm elections. Malacañang padlocked Nabcor in April this year.

The 10 lawmakers were former allies of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Like snakes shedding outgrown skin, they changed loyalties after B.S. Aquino 3rd took the presidency in Malacañang; the lawmakers joined the Liberal Party.

The ghost of that past P5-billion anomaly has returned to haunt the present. Garin (Iloilo, 1st district, three terms) became DOH officer-in-charge following a shady P833.67-million procurement of anti-pneumonia vaccines in 2012– allegedly against the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global health experts.

In March 2014, erstwhile Nabcor vice-president for finance Rhodora Mendoza and general services supervisor Victor Cacal blew the lid on the P5-billion anomaly. In an affidavit submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, Mendoza claimed that she personally delivered to Garin and nine other politicians P1 million each during the 2007 elections when the DOH official was still representative of Iloilo’s first district. The money was taken from a P105-million budget, supposedly for Nabcor“technical studies.”

Those “technical studies for rice, corn, vegetables, poultry, processed foods, etc.” had not been conducted– Nabcor employees were required to turn up the necessary paperwork to make it appear that the P105 million was spent for such studies.

Thus far, Mendoza and Cacal have yet to provide the paper trail where the rest of the P5-billion went, citing in their complaint filed with the NBI that “even the ledger containing the bank accounts where the commissions were deposited was annexed to the complaint.”

As for Garin’s other gaffe, observers are waiting for 21 days to lapse, just to see if she might have turned into a carrier of a virulent disease. (ai/mtvn)

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