Remarkbly, one of the last acts of the outgoing Palace spokesman over the weekend was to take credit for the arrest of Pharmally executives and siblings Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, who had defied a Senate order to produce financial documents and gone into hiding.
The two executives are central figures in the Senate blue ribbon committee’s investigation of Pharmally, an under-capitalized company with a paid-up capital of only P625,000 in 2019 but which bagged P11.5 billion worth of government contracts for allegedly overpriced pandemic supplies such as face masks and face shields.
The purchases were coursed through the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), under then Budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who President Duterte appointed out of gratitude for services he rendered as a volunteer election lawyer during the 2016 presidential race.
Lao contracted the purchases on behalf of the Department of Health, which had transferred P42 billion to the PS-DBM for that purpose. The Commission on Audit later flagged the transfer for lack of supporting documents, triggering the Senate investigation.
The Dargani siblings were arrested by Senate security personnel in Davao City shortly before they could board a chartered flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Following the arrest, the outgoing Palace spokesman said the siblings would not have been arrested were it not for the cooperation of the executive department, since the airport is under the authority of that department. They could have been allowed to leave but they were not, he added.
The statement was stupefying, given the many times his boss, the President came to the defense of his former elections lawyer, and the Pharmally deal itself—even though it was obvious from the evidence produced during the Senate hearings that there was something seriously amiss. The President’s defense of the Pharmally deals were so frequent and spirited, in fact, that he must have later felt compelled to dispel the perception that he was acting like a lawyer for the company rather than the country’s chief executive.
Nor did it help that the President ordered his Cabinet official to ignore Senate summonses, and told the police not to arrest anyone who ignored Senate subpoenas.
Mr. Duterte’s more recent remarks that he didn’t care about the Pharmally executives who should have paid their taxes are now widely seen as damage control, with the President distancing himself as elections draw near from an indefensible, malodorous deal that he spent months defending.
The former Palace spokesman’s statement is astounding, too, in that it seeks to credit the executive department for doing what it really should have done in the first place—its job, to implement the law.
The erstwhile Palace spokesman says he has resigned to pursue a seat in the Senate in the elections next year—just like his boss. Surely, given their track record in opposing the blue ribbon investigation, there is some irony in that.