CORRUPTION SCANDAL ROCKS DUTERTE GOV’T: P8.6-B Covid purchases ‘overpriced’, linked to President’s men, Sen. Go

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

 MANILA — Mounting allegations of corruption have jolted President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration and the Senate, triggered by Commission on Audit red flags on multi-billion-peso transactions, is poised to dig deeper into the scandals.

The Senate ethics committee led by Senator Manny Pacquiao is also ready to subject Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, a former long-time aide of President Duterte since he was Davao City mayor, for his alleged role in the controversial P8.6 billion contract for the purchase of face masks, face shields and related gadgets needed in the fight against COVID-19 which initial findings indicate were allegedly overpriced and awarded to a shady company.
Senator Go denied any involvement in the controversial contracts.

Pacquiao said that the ethics probe will happen if there is a complaint brought to the panel, adding he was vindicated for his expose on alleged corruption in the Duterte administration before he left for Los Angeles, California.

Mr. Duterte immediately defended the contracts saying all were in order as he went ballistic against Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson who are spearheading a thorough investigation by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee. Mr. Duterte’s actuation puzzled the senators, saying the President could be in a “panic” mode.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, signed subpoenas for those perceived to be involved in the alleged scandal, including former presidential adviser Michael Yang, Duterte appointee from Davao Department of Budget and Management Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao who presided at the bidding and purchases, Undersecretary Anderson Lo of the Presidential Management Staff and Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong.

Senator Riza Hontiveros, meanwhile, alleged that some officials of Pharmally Pharmacuetical Corp. which were awarded P8.6 billion supply contract despite of the fact that it was newly registered business in Manila and that it had only a capitalization of P500,000, were wanted in Taiwan for fraud and embezzlement.

As the Senate looked deeper  into government’s purchase of allegedly overpriced COVID-19 safety gear, Malacañang accused the previous Aquino administration bought costlier personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque  said the Aquino administration bought PPEs worth P3,500 to P3,800 in 2015 and 2016 when there was no COVID pandemic yet, while the Pharmaly  got the contract for PPEs allegedly for only P1,700 per set.

“Overpriced ba raw po ito? Hindi po kasi noong mga panahong ‘yon, biglang lahat ng bansa ay naghahanap ng PPEs,” said Roque.

 A copy of the purchase order dated June 23, 2016 obtained by ABS-CBN News and other media showed that the PPEs bought by the DOH during the Aquino administration is a set composed of goggles, gloves, plastic shoe cover, coverall, surgical gown, N95 and surgical masks and head cap. It was bought at P3,864 per set.

    It is also indicated in the document that the said PPE sets were procured for the use of “school-based health stations/BHSs under the Health Facility Enhancement Program Management Office (HFEPMO)”.

The DOH also procured a similar set of PPEs in 2015 worth P3,500 per set for the use of the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon earlier dared Roque to identify the “backer” of Pharmally and Lloyd Christopher Lao, who was head of the budget department’s procurement service when it awarded the contracts to the firm.

President  Duterte, meanwhile, admitted that Lao was part of his campaign team and helped him with legal matters before being appointed to government.

Aside from the P8.6 billion contract by the Department of Budget and Management with Pharmally, the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) also awarded multi-million peso contracts to a Davao City-based supplier of personal protective equipment (PPE) despite lower bids from other companies, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).

In its 2020 report, COA said the PITC approved a budget of ₱186.584 million for emergency procurement of various PPE from a certain supplier “without considering the lowest price proposal for each item.”

The government could have saved ₱2.166 million if the PITC considered the lowest prices offered, COA added.

The report did not identify the winning bidder, but data on awarded contracts posted on the PITC website showed the chosen supplier was Biosite Medical Instruments, which has Davao City as indicated address.

Based on uploaded documents, Biosite Medical Instruments secured 10 contracts, dated April 2020, for the supply and delivery of 74,000 pieces each of different medical items. Notable among these are face shields sold at ₱198 each, totaling ₱14.65 million.

These cost more than the ₱120 face shields bought by the Department of Budget and Management last year, which are also being questioned by lawmakers.

Duterte castigated senators for implicating his appointees in the alleged overpricing of face masks, face shields, personal protective equipment, and other pandemic supplies.
The president also defended his former economic adviser, Chinese national Michael Yang, who had introduced him in 2017 to officers of Pharmally International Holding Co. Ltd., a company related to Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., which bagged P8.7 billion worth of contracts for “overpriced” pandemic supplies.
Duterte dismissed allegations made by a former police officer that Yang was linked to the illegal drugs trade as he had known the businessman who had been trading in Davao City for the past 20 years and was a friend of former Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
“You know, Zhao is a colonel of the People’s Liberation Army. He’s military. Will he allow himself [to be associated with a drug lord]?” Duterte said.

Go, a longtime aide of Duterte who was elected senator in 2019, is still often seen at his side.

Gordon said the Senate summoned Undersecretary Anderson Lo of the Presidential Management Staff and Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong to join former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao for questioning about their involvement in the contracts cornered by Pharmally, a small trading company with just P625,000 in paid-up capital.

Lao, who was Duterte’s election lawyer in 2016, retired in June this year as executive director of PS-DBM where Liong served as one of the directors. Lo is now one of three candidates for deputy ombudsman for Mindanao.