Every time people wear the plastic face shield when they go to indoor business establishments like shopping malls, they are reminded of Pharmally’s multi-billion-peso contracts awarded in haste by an official appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

It has been almost a year since Duterte mandated the wearing of face shields as an added protection against the transmission of the coronavirus. No other country in the world had mandated the wearing of face shields, except the Philippines.

But there is really no scientific proof to show that the plastic face shields can block the transmission of the deadly virus. In fact, an engineer had conducted simulations showing that the face shield could actually capture the dangerous virus and could increase the chances of a person getting infected.

In fact, the number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases increased after the wearing of face shields was imposed in December. The number of cases in 2021 exceeded the number of cases last year.

It only goes to show that the plastic face shields are ineffective in giving added protection to the people.

Medical experts have found the face shields to be totally unnecessary. Even experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not recommended the wearing of face shields as a policy.

Last year, the government, through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), bought more than two million face shields from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. for about P38 million, or roughly P19 per piece. On the streets, the face shields were sold at P10 per piece.

Nearly 500,000 face shields remained sitting in the government warehouses at the end of 2020, an indication that PS-DBM had bought too many supplies.

This year, the government again bought face shields for health workers but the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee found out that Pharmally had tampered with manufacturing dates to make it appear the items were newly manufactured, even if some of them were soiled and substandard.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros presented an anonymous Pharmally warehouse staff who testified that they were ordered to change the manufacturing date of the face shields to make it appear the items were new.

An official from Pharmally admitted to the irregularities but later took back her testimony at a lower house hearing.

The Pharmally official who ordered the tampering has disappeared, and refused to cooperate with senators looking into the questionable transactions.

Pharmally got a total of nearly P11 billion in 15 contracts from three government agencies in 2020 and 2021. However when it was set up in 2019, it had a paid capital of only P625,000.

In June 2020, three months after it got its first medical supplies contract from PS-DBM, it was already awarded a whopping P8.5-billion deal, about 13 times its paid capital. This year, the company got an additional P2.3-billion contract from the Department of Health and another agency.

More than 55 percent of the P8.5-billion contract awarded to Pharmally were for three types of testing kits, and nearly 40 percent were personal protective equipment (PPEs). The surgical masks and face shields were only about 3 percent of the total contracts.

For a poorly capitalized company based in Davao City, there was so much windfall in just three months. It appeared the medical supplies sold by Pharmally were grossly overpriced.

For instance, the surgical masks were sold at P28 per piece when a local manufacturer sold them for only P13 a piece. When costs of the surgical masks went down in late 2020, the local maker was forced to bring down the price to P2, losing hundreds of millions in investments.

Pharmally had delivered all of its 12.9 million surgical masks at P287.8 million, avoiding a potential loss from price cuts due to oversupply in the market.

Senators were not surprised at all after they learned the group of Chinese businessmen who set up Pharmally was the favored contractor. After all, the company was well-connected. It had the backing of Michael Yang, a Chinese national who had served as an economic adviser to the president.

Lloyd Lao, who used to head the PS-DBM, had apparently failed to exercise due diligence in awarding the contracts to Pharmally. It was not only undercapitalized, it also had no track record of transacting business with the government.

The senators had also found out that the company and its officials did not pay taxes for the billions of pesos they earned from the government contracts.

They even flaunted the money they earned by buying luxury cars, like Porsches and Lamborghinis. Another Pharmally official who showed up at the Senate displayed his expensive clothes.

Most of the items supplied by Pharmally went to health care workers — PPEs, surgical masks, goggles, face shields, and test kits.

But, for the people, the most visible indication of corruption is the face shield which was forced on them. They are reminded of the corruption as they wear the face shield every day.

Some lawmakers, and even Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, who is running for president next year, had criticized the mandatory wearing of face shield as an added burden to the people, an anti-poor policy.

Some people were even penalized for not wearing them. A biker was charged in court for not wearing a face shield when the government already ruled that it was dangerous to ride a bike with a face shield.

However, Duterte continued to defend Pharmally and the questionable deals it won from the government. He has continued to reject calls from several sectors to remove the face shield mandate, requiring the people to wear them indoors.

Duterte is risking his political capital with his continued defense of Pharmally and the face shield mandate.

Last week, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) opinion polls showed Duterte’s satisfaction rating declining by 10 points to 52 percent in the third quarter.

The pollster gave no explanation for the decline but political analysts say the people’s frustration over the government’s management of the pandemic and the perception of corruption in the Pharmally deal could have affected the president’s rating.

Of course, Duterte does not want to see his ratings fall until next year’s elections when his endorsement could be seen as a “kiss of death” for a candidate.

There’s enough time for the president to recover. But he has to cut clean from Pharmally and the group of Davao City-based businessmen behind the perceived sweetheart deals with the government.

Duterte can start distancing from the deals by removing the face shield mandate. No one wants the plastic shield on their faces. It only reminds them that some Chinese businessmen earned millions from it.