PHARMALLY PROBE: PLUNDER, RAPS EYED VS DUTERTE, DUQUE, OTHERS; Senate panel recommendation needs plenary okay, questioned

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER Michael Yang (left) in file photos with President Duterte, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and former Budget undersecretary Christopher Lao (right).

PASAY CITY – The Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s extended investigation of the Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. scandal has made public its draft partial report, recommending that President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque and others be held accountable and charged with graft and plunder in connection with the over P10 billion medical supplies awarded to the firm.
Aside from Duque, recommended to be charged with graft and plunder were former government officials Lloyd Christopher Lao and Warren Rex Liong, and Pharmally executives and employees Linconn Ong, Mohit Dargani, Krizle Grace Mago, Huang Tzu Yen,  Lin Weixiong and former presidential adviser Michael Yang, who was also recommended for deportation.
The Senate panel led by Sen. Richard Gordon, in its partial committee report, also recommended filing charges against a certain Dickson Panti for allegedly violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The panel’s recommendation will have to be submitted officially to the Senate as a plenary, but this will have to wait because Congress is now in recess.
Meanwhile, the lawyers of those recommended to be charged in connection with the controversial Pharmally Pharmaceuticals deals said they will wait for the copies of the report, adding that as it was only a mere draft and the recommendations may have no strong legs to stand on.
At press time, Senator Gordon disclosed that the draft report has the backing of eight senators but needed three more senators so it can be considered approved by the committee before it is endorsed to the Senate as a whole for action.
Gordon also disclosed that three senators were still hesitant to sign the report because it includes a recommendation to cite President Rodrigo Duterte for plunder.

The House of Representatives Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability also conducted its separation hearings on the Pharmally and medical supplies purchases and maintained that there was no overpricing in the purchase of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) supplies.

House committee chairman Michael Aglipay said the panel’s report also found that there was nothing irregular with the procedure done by the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (PS-DBM).

“The Committee found that there was no overpricing in the purchase of materials, supplies, and equipment by the PS-DBM,” Aglipay said. “The procedure on emergency procurement pursuant to Bayanihan Act One undertaken by the PS-DBM… was consistent with applicable rules and regulations. There was nothing irregular nor illegal in the procedure applied PS-DBM.”

Aglipay said one of the recommendations in the committee report was to abolish the PS-DBM since it has already “outlived its purpose.”

“PS-DBM has outlived its purpose considering that all agencies now have their own procurement department and BAC (Bids and Awards Committee),” he said.

The panel has also recommended the filing of syndicated estafa charges against several officials of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. in connection with the government’s purchase of Covid-19 supplies.

The criminal charges against Pharmally chairman Huang Tzu Yen, treasurer Mohit Dargani, president Twinkle Dargani, Pharmally director Lincoln Ong, and Pharmally executives Justine Garado and Krizle Grace Mago shall be filed before the Department of Justice, Aglipay said.

“These acts of Pharmally officials are grossly aggravated by the fact that these were committed during the height of pandemic. By taking advantage of the more lenient procurement regulations under Bayanihan Act One, this matter, Pharmally gravely abused the system to the insufferable prejudice of the government,” Aglipay said.

The House panel, however, did not recommend any charges against former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang and former PS-DBM executive director Christopher Lloyd Lao due to lack of evidence.

“The evidence does not warrant or is not enough for cases to hold,” he said.

The Senators noted how Secretary Duque moved over ₱40 billion from his agency to the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM) to supposedly hasten the purchase of medical supplies.

“Even after the multi-billion peso inter-agency transfer, DOH was purchasing supplies at considerably lower prices than that of PS-DBM,”  the 113-page committee report stated.

Duque said if ever the report will adopted, he and the DOH will fully cooperate with the court’s processes, pointing out that they have “nothing to hide.”
In its report, the Senate panel also said Lin, Yang, and Qing Jin Ke should be deported for being “undesirable aliens.”
The committee also said Lincoln Ong, Krizle Mago, Mohit Dargani and Rose Nono Lim could face charges for perjury/ false testimony.
Also recommended to be charged for allegedly violating the Government Procurement Reform Act wereLloyd Christopher A. Lao, Warren Rex H. Liong, Huang Tzu Yen, Twinkle Dargani, Mohit Dargani, Linconn Ong, Krizle Grace Mago and Lin Weixiong.
The panel also said the following should be charged of disobedience to summons issued by CongressLinconn Ong, Mohit Dargani and Michael Yang while those found to haveviolated the Revised Corporation Code were Huang Tzu Yen, Twinkle Dargani, Mohit Dargani, Linconn Ong, Krizle Grace Mago and Lin Weixiong while others were recommended charged for falsification of public documents.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee is also seeking estafa charges against Mago and Mohit Dargani while Lao and Liong should be charged with Frauds Against the Public Treasury and Similar Offense.
Duterte, according to the panel, may be accountable and charged once he steps down from office later this year.
The Senate committee recommended charges against former DBM Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, former presidential economic adviser and Chinese businessman Michael Yang, and several other officials of the embattled Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Lao was the head of the PS-DBM when it awarded the supply contracts to Pharmally in 2020. Yang, on the other hand, was tagged as the firm’s financier.

The Senate’s draft report also recommended the deportation of Yang, whom the committee called out for being evasive during hearings.

“Financing the Pharmally contracts was a sure way of washing his cash. He, for all intents and purposes, is the co-conductor of this horrible mess,” it said.

Yang’s camp maintained that the report findings “have no legal basis.” Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, who represents Pharmally executives, also expressed confidence that his clients would be exonerated.

The Senate committee draft becomes final after the majority of the members sign the report and the committee submits it to the Senate plenary for approval.

Senator Gordon said filing of charges against President Duterte at this time was not possible as he still enjoys immunity from suit as president.

The senator, a former close ally of the president, earlier said that “the president is part of this. You cannot not mention him (in the report).”

Late last year, the president ordered his Cabinet officials to ignore any summons from the Senate Blue Ribbon committee during its investigation of the Pharmally deals.

The case stemmed from the P42 billion (about US$840 million) that the government spent to purchase medical supplies for use against the coronavirus pandemic, a large bulk of which went to Pharmally without benefit of public bidding.

It was later discovered that Pharmally was not a manufacturer of the supplies, but only served as a middleman. Also, some of the supplies supplied to the government turned out to be substandard and/or grossly overpriced.

Gordon’s report said, “at some point after his term of office, charges must be considered against President Rodrigo Duterte for what has transpired in this great anomaly.”

The draft report added that Mr. Duterte “was the one who appointed all the people who approved these transactions and aggressively protected and defended them when they were caught.”

As of press time, Malacanang had not commented on the Blue Ribbon panel’s report.

The investigation began in August last year at the height of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president had authorized the purchases of the medical supplies without public bidding, ostensibly due to the ongoing health emergency.

Mr. Duterte even attacked the Commission on Audit, which found deficiencies on how the Health department was spending funds to fight the pandemic.

Gordon’s report slammed the president’s “tyrannical use of presidential powers to prevent officials and employees from participating in the hearings.”

The report also questioned the president’s allowing his close friend Michael Yang – a Chinese national – to finance the Pharmally contracts.

Pharmally was a newly-incorporated private company with an operating capital of only P625,000 with no record of dealing with the government.

Yang reportedly financed the multi-billion peso transactions that Pharmally had with the Health department, but he told the Senate hearings that he had actually borrowed money from his friends. The Blue Ribbon found this claim as unlikely, especially after Yang was unable to name the friends who allegedly lent him the money.

The Blue Ribbon report noted that Mr. Duterte had admitted ordering the transfer of P42 billion from the Health department to the Budget department’s Procurement Service, headed by Lloyd Christopher Lao.

Lao was found to have awarded a single contract worth more than P8 billion to Pharmally.

While it was possible that the president was not fully aware of what his subordinates were doing, “it certainly came to his attention when the hearings were underway,” the report said.

The Blue Ribbon report concluded: “Based on the president’s own behavior, one cannot help but conclude that he was aware of, allowed, and condoned the misdeeds of his closest associates and appointees. For this, he must be held accountable.”