The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday found that President Rodrigo Duterte betrayed the public trust in connection with his actions related to the government’s multibillion-peso contracts with Pharmally Corp.
Also called the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, the Senate panel also recommended the filing of criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other former government officials over the alleged misuse of COVID-19 pandemic response funds.
The initial 113-page partial report of the committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon stressed that Duque transferred a total of P41.4 billion to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The committee said Duterte betrayed the public trust, in violation of his oath ofoffice under the 1987 Constitution, by:
• Appointing Michael Yang, a foreign national, as “Economic Adviser to the President” in 2018. Yang then introduced numerous Chinese suppliers with whom the government transacted and, in the process, enriched himself immensely;
• Accepting that an undercapitalized corporation owned by a Taiwanese fugitive, and with proven ties to Michael Yang, had dominance over pandemic procurement of COVID-19 supplies;
• Seeking to discredit the Commission on Audie (COA), whose Constitutional duty it is to conduct an audit of all government expenditures, and which had previously flagged the anomalous transaction, and through threats, prevent it from functioning;
• Trying to discredit the credibility of the Senate by publicly attacking, maligning, and disrespecting the Senate as an institution, a co-equal branch of government, and its members duly performing their duties, and in doing so attempting to render inutile the Senate’s role in investigating corruption;
• Ordering the issuance of a patently illegal memorandum preventing his cabinet members and other officials of his administration from attending the hearings; and
• Refusing to run after his appointees despite calls from the public and the Senate to compel their attendance, in order to further the search for truth, failing to hold accountable these appointees for one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.
“The most troubling question remains — why was the President so quick to defend those closest to him once their names were linked to the anomaly, and then so eager to discredit the Senate investigation, prevent his appointees from cooperating, and absolve them of any
liability?” the report read.
“Why the massive attack and offensive based on false and unfounded accusations against a co-equal branch of government that was merely doing its job to protect the country not only from the unseen enemy that is COVID- 19, but also from perfidious enemies from within who deprived, for the sake of a greedy few, the Filipino people of the protection and succor that they needed during the most trying time of their lives,” it added.
“Unfortunately, based on the President’s own behavior, one cannot help but conclude that he was aware of, allowed, and condoned,” the report read.
It also said Duque issued Agency Procurement Requests (APR) as justification for the transferred funds.
“However, on examination of the APRs, inherent overpricing is prevalent. For one, the PPEs – ceiling price is at P2,000 while the
suggested retail price for this particular set of items range from P900 to P1,000,” read the report.
Following the ceiling price stated in the APRs, PS-DBM then procured the items at prices below P2,000.
Gordon’s committee also noted that charges “must be considered” against President Duterte “after his term… for what has transpired in this great anomaly.”
“After all, he was the one who appointed all the people who approved these transactions and aggressively protected and defended them when they were caught in this horrible crime against our people. In the course of doing so, the President attempted to diminish the Senate and COA, institutions that safeguard our democracy and integrity,” explained the report.
Using resources of the government, the report said the President has reserved his regular address to the nation to attack his perceived opponents, vilify his critics, stifle dissent, threaten senators, and cast doubt without basis on investigations into corruption in the administration that the Senate is doing.
“The mere ‘whiff of corruption’ test that he promised to act on has become a stench,” said the report.
“Umaalingasaw ang baho ng kawalang-hiyaan pandarambong dito sa Pharmally contracts na ito [The stench of this vile corruption emits through the Pharmally contracts]. The lack of action on the part of Malacanang towards the anomalies exposed, and in its stead a vehement
protection,” it added.
The committee also recommended criminal charges against ex-Duterte adviser Michael Yang, ex-DBM Usec. Christopher Lao, and several officials of government supplier Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. Inc. including Linconn Ong. for their role in an anomalous deal entered with Pharmally Pha in 2020.
Lawyer Raymund Fortun, legal counsel of Yang, assailed the conclusions in the report as having no legal nor factual basis, and done not in aid of legislation but solely for reelection.
“Mr. Yang looks forward to the report being handled by an impartial investigation body that would decide the case based on actual evidence
instead of hallucinations,” he said.
Ferdie Topacio, lawyer for Ong and Pharmally, added: “As expected, the Kangaroo Blue Ribbon Committee, which has morphed into what is practically a one-man committee dominated by Mr. Dick Gordon and his lengthy ululations, has made a so-called ‘partial report’ containing nothing but reiterations of all the canard and obloquy that Gordon and his ilk have been repeating like a mad mantra since the first day of
He challenged Gordon and company “to write ‘finis’ to the farce they have started and are milking to the last drop to boost their floundering candidacies, and just let the justice system take its course.
“There, in the judiciary at least, my clients will be assured of a fair shake, unfettered by the oppression of the medieval Star Chamber into which Gordon has converted the Blue Ribbon,” Topacio added.
The committee also proposed the filing of multiple administrative and criminal charges against Lao and Procurement Director Warren Rex Liong for their role in an anomalous deal entered with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation in 2020.
Referring to Lao, the report said: “The premeditated plunder commences with appointing an all-in-one trusted election supporter, a bent
lawyer who reports and is accountable only to the President and to no other, is plentifully corrupt, and one who has a deplorable sense of indifference to the suffering of others, to a low-profile, but which turns out to be a highly-lucrative government posting.”
“As concertmaster, he ensures that the contracts are given mostly to a favored or favorite supplier even if the corporation will not even qualify technically, legally, and financially,” the report added.
Lao, the panel said, has already earned incredible notoriety even before his name was dropped in the Pharmally controversy.
The report mentioned that before his stint in the PS-DBM, Lao has already brandished a sordid record of attempted corruption, earning a
negative reputation as an extortionist in the Office of the Special Assistant of the President and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board afterwards.
Following his involvement in the Pharmally deal, he applied to become Overall Deputy Ombudsman, but reneged at the last minute.
Liong, who was appointed as Overall Deputy Ombudsman by President Duterte, was with Lao in the PS-DBM, signing purchase documents
courtesy of Lao.
“After all the major contracts had been consummated and paid for, the need for protection, in case the plot is discovered, had become imperative. There had to be a rear-guard action to cover the retreating conspirators from any legal peril that could surface later.
A getaway plan must be put into action,” said the report on Liong.
Lao and Liong engineered the partnership between Pharmally and the PS-DBM, awarding the upstart company with a multibillion-peso contract from March 2020 to July 2021.
Pharmally, which has only P625,000 in paid-up capital, was questioned for its technical, legal, and financial capability.
The committee also officially proposed the deportation of Yang for his role in an anomalous procurement deal entered by the government with the upstart company, among other criminal violations.
It said Yang’s violation of multiple laws including tax evasion under Republic Act (RA) 8424, or the National Internal Revenue Tax Code, justifies the filing of criminal charges, his declaration as an undesirable alien, and immediate deportation.