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The Chinese fig leaf

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WITH PRESIDENT Duterte getting more upset, if not belligerent, about the Senate probe into the alleged overpriced acquisition of medical supplies from China, the senators may get even more fired up to get to the bottom of the pandemic controversy.

And it’s not just about the apparent official manipulation that brought this anomalous transaction to pass unnoticed while everybody’s attention is riveted on the unrelenting viral assault. The bottom line is, who’s bitten off the forbidden fruit: corruption at the highest office, the original sin. They’re after not just  the smoking gun but the one who pulled the trigger.

There’s a palpable sense that somebody is closer than ever to be thrown out of the Garden of Eden. And that may even spell more trouble not only for those behind it but for the nation ,in general,  because of serious  divided polity and tribal-like loyalty, the anti-thesis to a unified society.

It matters little that the senators may be doing it for political reason, given that it’s the start of the 2022 election season. All is fair in politics and war, it’s been said. The pursuit of truth should prevail over what drives it.  Anyway , politics is partly, if not wholly, driven by Machiavellian principle.   The end justifies the means. There are no saints in politics, according to Joe Klein of ‘Politics Lost’.

So, it  is not surprising that the Senate blue ribbon committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon is behaving closer to an Inquisition squad than a canonization body. Two things, at least, motivate Gordon.  He has been at the receiving end of Duterte’s unflattering comments and, more importantly, he probably believes he can do a better job than the lessee by the Pasig River.  The lease is soon to expire, and a renewal isn’t only unlawful but widely frowned at.

At the end of the day, Filipinos should get a better idea of how much, proportionately or disproportionately,friendly Duterte is to China and to Chinese friends that it is already compromising not only good governance but national security.  The former may be given a free pass by what actress Agot Isidro implied as a consenting Senate; the latter may need to pass through the proverbial hole of the needle.  Domestic policy may defeat us, the late American president John F. Kennedy said, but foreign policy may kill us.

Duterte and his camp may raise the usual flag of foreign policy, which by the doctrine of Harry Roque, Duterte is the sole architect. Roque is only partly correct. The doctrine suggests  design, not the framing of the entire structure.as the Constitution mandates the Senate the confirming function..They’re not just for the icing on the cake.

“Foreign policy is really domestic policy with its hat on”, American President  said.  The journalist Fareed Zakaria views more of it in terms of the cost-benefit ledger rather than theological inclination.

Duterte’s hat is obvious for the world to see. He has sounded lately  like a latter-day theologian because of the protean virus,but  has  left no room to doubt where his heart is.  He is pro-China, profusely praising President Xi JinPing for his kindness, and gratuitously elevating the Chinese as intelligent as, if not more than, their Western counterpart.   He has also acted in some revisionist fashion vis-à-vis PH-US relation by demanding more and bigger compensation from the US for the Visiting Forces Agreement he has dangled like bait and described more like a blackmail. .  He has said  he would be neutral in the dispute between US and China over the South China Sea, ignoring a long-standing mutual defense pact that both will come to the aid of the other when it is under attack.

In fairness, Duterte may be  aware of the so-called ‘Thucydides Trap” raised by historians that a rising power that threatens a ruling power may lead to war. Being a small-town authoritarian, he naturally, instinctively  sides with a continental one.  Birds of the same feather, flock together, so goes the old saw.  In the meantime, according to Sen. Ping Lacson during his proclamation as presidential bet for 2022, the Philippines is slowly but surely losing its territories in the SCS.  And President Duterte had  made it clear earlier: he wasn’t ready to go to war with China over it.

So far, the Senate has established Malacanang’s link with the Chinese businessman who had made the medical supplies transaction possible between the government and a small-time Chinese supplier which bit off more than it could chew.  It was shown to have a capitalization of a little than half a million but made off with billion pesos of worth of contract.  It shouldn’t have been possible, in other words.

For Gordon and company, the show must go on, despite the little dragon spewing fire and venom across the bridge.

The fire was getting close enough for comfort that Duterte himself has come to intervene for his Chinese friend, a former economic adviser and long-time constituent in Davao City, and the supplier itself.  Duterte has come out openly defending the players in the alleged overpricing scheme Gordon had to remind him that he was the President of the Philippines, impliedly not China or one of its provinces.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Duterte is threatening to expose Gordon about his peccadillos, starting with how he has been using funds of the Philippine Red Cross for his own purpose. He has also called on the Commission on Audit to turn the table on Gordon by doing an audit on the Red Cross government transactions.  Early on, he asked Lacson pointedly if he was really honest. Senate President Tito Sotto appears out of Duterte’s cross-hair. Duterte had earlier endorsed Sotto as a vice presidential timber. But that was before Duterte’s acceptance as vice presidential bet by the PDP-Laban.  Agot Isidro may have reason for her scoffing cynicism on the senators’ political correctness.

The Senate has discovered something fishy in the Duterte Administration and the indications are that Malacanang may have a direct hand in it. Duterte is not taking the Senate damaging probe sitting down. He has said he was willing to sink or swim with Health Secretary Francisco Duque over the COA’s audit findings with how it has disbursed public funds.  It looks like he may have to adopt the same philosophy with the alleged overpriced acquisition of medical supplies by the government from a Chinese company with the help of a former Malacanang adviser.

The Senate has the  historic opportunity to end the innocence of many blinded by political partisanship, official favors and personal ties that have made  them  look the other way, dared to be bullier than the bully itself and flaccidly tolerate  one man’s attempt to turn  the Constitution on its head.

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