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Philippines

Philippine bishop calls for protests over Covid graft

Prelate launches blistering attack on govt officials over alleged misuse of funds meant to fight pandemic

Philippine bishop calls for protests over Covid graft

Health workers from the government-run Philippine General Hospital hold placards in Manila on Aug. 26 as they ask the government to pay their risk allowances amid rising Covid-19 infections. (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has called for protests over an alleged 67 billion peso (US$1.3 billion) pandemic scam, saying Catholics should demand that corrupt officials be brought to justice.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas described the country as a battleground between good and evil, adding that Catholics should not sit on the fence.

“There can be no room for neutrality. 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,” he said in a strongly worded pastoral letter issued on Oct. 22.

The prelate said he fully backed a call by doctors for transparency, exigency and accountability in the use of government funds used in the pandemic.

Earlier this month, several medical groups in the Philippines claimed billions of pesos that should have gone towards medical supplies and health worker benefits were misappropriated.

They pointed to one instance where a 12 billion peso ($237 million) contract was awarded by the government to a firm called Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation to purchase equipment such as face masks and shields. Critics said the cost of the equipment was overpriced.

We cannot but be appalled by credible reports about dishonesty, graft and malfeasance in scandalous proportions

“Corruption and a total disregard for decency and morality have begun to permeate the Filipino soul. This is not who we are, but this is what we are going to be unless we do something about it now,” the doctors said in a statement.

Archbishop Villegas described the alleged anomalous transactions as “disgusting” if government officials pocketed billions of pesos at the expense of those who died or were infected by the virus.

“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,” Archbishop Villegas added.

Archbishop Villegas said the Filipino people have been fooled by corrupt officials.

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“Held in the grip of dread for the disease that has claimed so many lives, our people, already laid low by the economic privation brought about by the pandemic, were hoodwinked by those who exploited the situation for their profit,” he added.

The prelate urged those who allegedly benefited from the corruption to return the money.

Archbishop Villegas also called on clergymen to educate the conscience of all Catholics not to accept corruption as the norm in government transactions.

“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,” he said.

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