Profiteering in a pandemic

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Images of Money via Creative Commons/Flickr

Profiteering in the worst of conditions is not a new heinous crime. History has rightly accused and publicly condemned many for it. In different countries, laws have been enacted to precisely declare profiteering as a crime. Let us take the definition of profiteering by Merriam-Webster dictionary and understand that all other definitions carry the same spirit and content:

“Profiteering is the act or activity of making an unreasonable profit on the sale of essential goods especially during times of emergency.”

Let me state from the very beginning that I am emotionally affected by the illnesses and deaths of people I know from Covid-19. I know, too, that hundreds of thousands more, especially those without the voice or means to express their grief, share the same sense of deep sadness. They had family and friends die of Covid-19, and even many who survived still suffer dramatically disrupted lives, health-wise and financially.

The collective grief and pain are very raw right now when public reports reveal the possibility of profiteering by greedy and evil individuals in positions of power. Worse, these individuals in authority have ready accomplices in the private sector, prepared to aid and abet the commission can be regarded as heinous crimes in a pandemic. It is not strange that grief and pain are turning to resentment and anger. Profiteering in a pandemic with more than 2 million infected, 36,000 has died an instinctive revulsion.

The Pharmally case raised many questions unanswered. They rushed to spend billions of pesos, yet substantial amounts of what they purchased ended up undistributed and stockpiled in warehouses. But even before they thoroughly answer the questions, whether by admission or by investigative work, the stench already offends Filipinos’ national and cultural character. It is not a whiff; it is a powerful spray of lousy odor that leads all who smell it to ask, “Where is this coming from?”

“The Pharmally case raised many questions unanswered. They rushed to spend billions of pesos, yet substantial amounts of what they purchased ended up undistributed and stockpiled in warehouses. But even before they thoroughly answer the questions, whether by admission or by investigative work, the stench already offends Filipinos’ national and cultural character.”

The main difference between justice and law practice is that the first is divine and human, while the second is literary and limited translation. Farting, or emitting gas from the anus, is natural yet unprovable in a court of law. The evidence is fleeting and quickly disappears. Yet, it was as accurate as it could get. Smelling the stench of released gas from the anus, or a fart, is divinely ordained and human yet not literary and extremely difficult to describe in translation.

While the law will take time determining the stench of profiteering, convicting those responsible and their accomplices in government and private sector, we are offended by what we smell. The Senate’s effort to investigate releases more of the stench, as much as investigators can discover and share with the public. The continuing foul odor effectively converts curiosity to discovery and outrage. It is what it should do – outrage all of us and express this outrage in ways that cannot be swept aside, as in national ostracization that may be more severe and long-lasting than simple prison terms.

Our curiosity will lead us to ask questions beyond the Pharmally transactions, again a natural development when curiosity marches on to investigation and discovery. Contrary to what some try to peddle, this curiosity is not politically motivated; instead, it is the same curiosity that pushes children to learn and discover. Truly, interest is not as easy to kill and grows faster when suppressed by fear. Because when the magnitude and character of abuse may reach proportions of billions, a paper trail has built up along the way.

Soon, we may be curious about how much of the ayuda was stolen by unscrupulous local officials, whether enough of them were charged and how they were punished. Soon, we may be curious about test centers, how they received the award (or why they did not reward some deserving business outfits), what their actual costs are and how much they have been charging all along.

Soon, we may be curious why allegedly critical medicines in the treatment of Covid-19 were priced the way they were, especially by private doctors and hospitals. At the same time, DOH stood by and did nothing to stop the nefarious practice. The fact that, much later, they brought the scandalous prices to the fore because of a very cheap medicine being aggressively discouraged by DOH and the same doctors who were mute on the profiteering; that DOH did try to put price ceilings only proved they were complicit for many months.

“Corruption is not a political game; it is a universal temptation. Both individuals in the private sectors and leaderships of various regimes have wallowed in it. It’s time to fight it even harder.”

I know the Senate’s investigation focuses on the Pharmally case and would extract more key information and exposed more to the public. And it should not be the primary responsibility of the Senate but by the Executive Branch led by the President. He repeatedly declared his committed stance against even a whiff of corruption among his people and the bureaucracy. As concerned and good citizens, we, too, the people of the republic, must lend our voices and our efforts to report the corrupt practices of government officials and employees within the scope of our knowledge.

Covid-19 is here to provoke a kind of change that we have refused to undertake under more specific circumstances. It is not political; this is evolution. It is a life process to shed or discard what has long weighed us down, what has long polluted our morals, what has long distorted our ethics and values, what has long been the ugly legacy we leave to the younger generations. The worst of this is profiteering under emergencies, what with its inhuman overtones.

Corruption is not a political game; it is a universal temptation. Both individuals in the private sectors and leaderships of various regimes have wallowed in it. It’s time to fight it even harder.

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