Senate panel: Pharmally, government officials in a “big plot”

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MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is at the center of a “grand plot” to defraud the government of billions of pesos perpetrated at the height of the pandemic by his Chinese friend and former economic adviser Michael Yang, executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and former and current budget purchasing officials, according to a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee report released Tuesday.

It was the president “who allowed his friends to dry bleed this nation’s coffers,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, who disclosed his commission’s preliminary report at Tuesday’s hearing, the 12th since. the investigation began on August 18.

“It is clear and categorical to us that this grand conspiracy could never have taken place without the president’s imprimatur,” said the senator, who has been the target of numerous tirades by Duterte since the start of the investigation.

He said criminal charges should be brought against Yang, who allegedly provided financial support to Pharmally, a company with a capital of just P625,000, so that it could fulfill its contracts amounting to P11.5 billion. P in 2020 and 2021 to provide the government with, among other things, masks and face shields, personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 test kits.

Gordon said the agreements with the purchasing department of the Ministry of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Ministry of Health (DOH) were “grossly and patently disadvantageous for the government”.

“Special audit”

Presidency spokesman Harry Roque called the allegations against Duterte “a big story.”

“I repeat, first of all, there was no premium in the purchase of PPE according to the chairman of the Audit Commission (COA),” Roque said at a press briefing.

He also insisted that no laws were broken when awarding contracts to Pharmally because the Bayanihan Law 1 allowed the president to make emergency purchases amid the pandemic.

“If there has been no violation of the law or premium, why will there be a grand conspiracy?” It’s a great story of a person who is in politics, ”he said, referring to Gordon, who is running for re-election.

In separate hearings held by the House of Representatives and the Senate, COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo told lawmakers that his report did not contain any statement about excessive pricing.

Deportation

Aguinaldo did not say that there was a premium, but neither did he say that there was no premium because “the observation of COA”, the term used by the organization. audit for his comments, was “more related to inventory management” than to the price of goods purchased.

He told the Senate that there would now be a “special audit” to examine it.

Gordon’s committee said Yang, a businessman, should be kicked out. But under Philippine law, such a decision is usually made after all charges against a foreigner have been resolved.

The committee said Yang was specifically responsible for perjury, violations of Bayanihan Law 1 and the Anti-Registry Law, and corrupt practices “for causing undue hardship” to the government by granting a private party undue benefits. and by entering into contracts which were “manifestly and extremely disadvantageous to the government.

Yang, who has been defended by the president on several occasions, had denied giving Pharmally a loan so that she could pay Chinese companies for pandemic supplies.

Last year, the DOH transferred at least 42 billion pesos from its pandemic funds to the PS-DBM to procure items it was struggling to buy on its own. But the COA reported the transfer for lack of a memorandum of understanding or other supporting documentation.

“Unjustified advantages”

“Our pro-legislation investigation reveals unreasonable, shameless and unethical deviations from our Republican style of governance,” Gordon said.

“We found that those involved prioritize their profits, commissions or bribes, instead of finding the right way to quell the pandemic,” he said.

The Senate found out that the PS-DBM had awarded Pharmally the lion’s share of contracts totaling 8.7 billion pesos for 2020 alone despite its under-capitalization.

“From our investigation, it was clear that there were” undue advantages, advantages or preferences or favoritism “for Pharmally, who had only P625,000 capital, no experience in procurement. of contracts and even declared a loss in its first year of operation. But it got a whopping P8 billion to P11 billion contracts from PS-DBM, “Gordon said.

Pharmally director Linconn Ong, who is being held in the Senate for contempt for his supposedly elusive and inconsistent testimony, faces possible charges of perjury, violations of Bayanihan Law and disobeying summons from lawmakers.

Load host

Pharmally’s head of regulatory affairs, Krizle Grace Mago, who took refuge in the House and recanted her earlier testimony that the company defrauded the government, was cited for “estafa” or swindle, perjury and violation of Bayanihan law.

Charges of estafa, perjury and disobedience to a convocation of Congress and violation of the Bayanihan law were also recommended against the general secretary and treasurer of Pharmally, Mohit Dargani.

Former PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao, Warren Liong, Jorge Mendoza and Mervin Tanquintic were also named in the report as possible respondents in criminal cases.

The panel approved the charges of bribery and corruption, and fraud against the public treasury and similar offenses against Lao and Liong.

It also recommended a charge of falsifying public documents against Liong, Mendoza and Tanquintic in the alleged falsification of inspection reports of deliveries made by Pharmally to PS-DBM warehouses.

Gordon stressed that the panel was far from completing its investigation, suggesting that more people could be prosecuted.

“They are trying to cover up their inadmissible crimes. We will not allow them. We will prosecute on behalf of the people not only to punish the culprits, but also to return the money they stole from us, ”he said.

For the second time, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other executive department officials did not attend the blue ribbon hearing, citing the president’s orders to ignore the committee’s summons.

In a letter to Gordon’s panel, however, Duque gave “firm assurances” that DOH officials would continue to cooperate with the investigation and submit “all documents” to aid the investigation.

Roque said the president believed officials had already spent so much time investigating that their jobs related to the COVID-19 crackdown were in jeopardy.

‘Enough is enough’

“The president is just saying that is enough at the time of the pandemic,” he said.

Hundreds of doctors and medical group leaders urged authorities to cooperate with the investigation and attend the hearings.

The latest group to express support for the investigation was the St. Luke Medical Center Employees Association, which opposed the president’s directive.

“Prohibiting Cabinet members and other officials from attending hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee not only disrespects the Augustan chamber, but is a clear attempt by the Duterte administration to protect leaders from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and their cohorts ”, declared the president of the association. Jao Clumia.

—WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA INQ

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