There is probable cause to prompt the Office of the Ombudsman to launch a formal investigation against government officials and Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executives involved in the questionable government purchases of COVID-19 supplies in 2020, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Monday.
This developed as Pharmally officials Linconn Ong and Mohit Dargani, both cited in contempt by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, were transferred on Monday to the Pasay City Jail from the Senate detention facility.
Ong, the firm’s director and Dargani, the corporate secretary and treasurer, had repeatedly refused to heed the order to turn over the financial documents of their firm by the committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon.
The officials of the firm, which bagged the biggest contract in the Department of Health’s procurement of medical equipment against COVID-19, arrived at the Pasay City Jail shortly before 2 p.m.
“I believe, as a lawyer, as a former secretary of Justice, that at the very least, a probable cause has been established to warrant the formal investigation either in the fiscal’s office or in the Ombudsman,” Drilon said in an interview with ANC.
He said there’s already a prima facie case and he expected the Ombudsman, as it has done in the past, to monitor the ongoing Senate investigation into the alleged anomalous procurement of COVID-19 supplies.
For now, Drilon said the Senate could keep Pharmally director Linconn Ong and the firm’s corporate secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani at the Pasay City Jail until the end of the 18th Congress.
“Under the decisions of the Supreme Court, until the expiration of the life of this Congress [which is] June 30, 2022,” he said.
In a statement, Gordon stressed that in the exercise of its powers and prerogatives, the Committee, when faced “with lying witnesses and disrespectful resource persons,” is not bereft of compulsory processes to ensure that the institution of the Senate “is respected, its honor preserved, and its integrity maintained whole.”
In the investigation into the DOH expenditures of funds for COVID-19 response, he said the Committee’s work has faced obstacles to deter, delay, or otherwise side-track its course.
“Pharmally Pharmaceutical Executives Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, as well as Linconn Ong, have been evasive in answering questions, and giving uttered lies, and spewed falsities,” he said.
Due to this, Gordon said the committee was constrained to exercise its rarely used powers of contempt, ordering the incarceration of the three.
On Sunday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III signed the commitment order that directs the detention of Ong and Dargani at the Pasay City Jail.
Last Friday, the Senate blue ribbon committee ordered the Pharmally officials’ transfer from the Senate premises to the city jail after the officials failed to provide the whereabouts of the boxes containing the documents related to the firm’s financial statements.
In the same interview, Drilon explained that these documents are necessary to determine if Pharmally has “fictitious” purchases.
The audited financial statements of Pharmally show that their total cost of sales is P7.092 billion and they generated a sale of P7.48 billion from the Department of Budget and Management Procurement Service (PS-DBM), Drilon said.
“Very simply, we want to know if in fact, they purchased this amount or some are fictitious because they could not produce the purchase orders—the cheques in payment and other evidence which will show that indeed they purchased P7.092 billion in supplies,” the minority leader said.
“That’s what I’m asking for because we suspect that some of these so-called sales are fictitious,” he added.
Drilon mentioned that the Senate Office of Sergeant-at-Arms (OSAA) could not find the addresses Evermore Marketing and Acme— these firms were named as suppliers of Pharmally.
These documents are also necessary to scrutinize if there was overpricing and if Pharmally paid correct taxes to the government.
“So, these are really documents which are relevant to the probe and as I said, we support the position of the blue ribbon and the Senate president, that until this is shown to us, we could not perform our function properly,” he said.
“This is not a capricious exercise of our prerogative as a Senate and blue ribbon committee. This prerogative to order the detention of resource persons who refuse to answer questions, to attend hearing, this is powers of contempt that the Senate has in order that we can compel the production of witnesses and documents, otherwise, we cannot perform our functions,” Drilon added.
The Senate blue ribbon committee is currently investigating the transfer of P42 billion COVID-19 funds from the Department of Health to the PS-DBM.
This includes PS-DBM’s purchase of P8.6 billion worth of face masks, face shields, and PPEs from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, a firm that only had a P625,000 paid-up capital when it entered transactions with the government.
The Senate panel will continue its probe on Friday.