Senators secure Pharmally exec offering to turn witness
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate blue ribbon committee has taken steps to secure Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. detained director Linconn Ong to thwart any attempt to silence him, after senators had lost contact with Pharmally executive Krizle Grace Mago after her bombshell testimony on Friday. Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Sunday also confirmed to the Inquirer that Ong had agreed to share information with the Senate in exchange for protection, but added that the senators “will assess first the info he has offered” in a closed-door executive session.
Whether Ong can become a state witness “depends on what he will divulge,” Sotto said in a Viber message.
Ong, now under Senate custody after he was cited in contempt for dodging questions in previous hearings, was supposed to be moved to the Pasay City Jail last Friday when he angered senators with his evasive and inconsistent testimony during the inquiry.
However, it appeared that the senators had dropped the plan out of concern for Ong’s safety following the “disappearance” of Mago, who could not be reached by the Senate committee since her testimony on Friday.
“I have a basis [for not disclosing Ong’s whereabouts]—security. They might get to him. His cohorts are so daring they might grab him,” Sen. Richard Gordon said on the “Usapang Senado” program on dwIZ radio on Saturday.
Gordon said Ong’s location was being kept secret for now after the senators “realized that he might get pulled, he might get stabbed” if he were moved to a city jail.
He also hinted that Ong had agreed to a tell-all session with senators.
“We are getting there. Everything is now getting unraveled,” he said.
The blue ribbon committee is set to resume its hearing on Thursday.
Ong, along with Pharmally’s Singaporean chair and president Huang Tzu Yen, earlier testified that President Duterte’s former economic adviser Michael Yang had loaned money to their company as it struggled to pay Chinese suppliers for medical goods ordered by the Philippine government.
But Yang denied the claim, insisting that his role was limited to introducing Ong to suppliers in China as well as friends who could give financial assistance to Pharmally.
The Chinese businessman, known to be close to Mr. Duterte, refused to disclose the identities of the people he introduced to Ong.
During Friday’s hearing, Ong again clammed up when asked by senators to disclose how much Yang had loaned Pharmally, citing a nondisclosure agreement.
Prodded by senators if he was willing to reveal what he knew in an executive session and under the witness protection program, he asked for an opportunity to consult his lawyer.
Mago, Pharmally’s regulatory affairs head, had asked for time to think about the offer to be placed under the Senate’s protection.
On Sunday, however, Gordon said his staff could no longer contact her after her damaging testimony that Pharmally had defrauded the government by supplying substandard items with bogus production dates.
She had claimed that she was acting on management’s orders when she instructed warehouse workers to change the production dates of face shields to 2021 from 2020 before these were delivered to the Department of Health (DOH).
She pointed to Pharmally secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani as the one who directed her, but the latter denied this.
In reply to Gordon’s question on whether Pharmally was “swindling the government,” Mago confessed: “I believe so, Mr. Chairman. I believe that is the case.”
She also admitted that she was made “for convenience” a nominee of Business Beyond Limits OPC, a newly formed one-person corporation that entered a joint venture with Pharmally and won a P37.9-million contract to supply two million face shields to the DOH in June.
“During the ninth hearing, we offered her (Mago) the opportunity to be placed under the protection of the Senate, but she said she wanted to think about it first. One day after her admission that her company cheated the Filipino people by switching the expiration dates of face shields, Ms Mago is ‘out of reach,’” Gordon wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
The senator’s office released to the media a timeline of events leading up to Mago going incommunicado.
At 5:47 p.m. on Friday, the Senate blue ribbon panel, at Gordon’s instruction, “asked for Ms Mago’s address and exact location for the protection they offered her.”
At 7:27 p.m. “Ms Mago said to the committee that she will get back to them after the hearing.”
At 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, the committee “made a follow up again on Ms Mago’s location.”
At 9:13 a.m. the committee tried calling her number “but she can no longer be reached.”
Pharmally, with an initial capital of only P625,000 in 2019, bagged P11.5 billion worth of pandemic supply deals from the government over the past two years. This accounted for nearly a third of the P42 billion in pandemic response funds transferred by the DOH to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management to buy medical supplies on its behalf. The fund transfer was flagged by the Commission on Audit for lack of a memorandum of agreement and supporting documents, triggering the Senate’s inquiry.
Former Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez has criticized the Duterte administration for taking part in the “criminal negligence” of Pharmally.
“These practices, as admitted no less by Pharmally’s Krizle Mago, [are] equivalent to swindling the government and the Filipino people,” Alvarez said in a statement.
“This could not have been successfully accomplished by Pharmally had it not been acting in coordination with certain people within the government,” Alvarez said, reacting to the billions of pesos in government contracts won by the firm.
Vice President Leni Robredo said this “would not have happened without the help of someone in power.”
“So many of our countrymen have died, we are lacking in health workers [and medical equipment] in our hospitals,” she mused. “Whatever was swindled, if it had only gone there, would have saved so many lives.”
The Inquirer also tried to confirm whether Yang, who testified through an interpreter at the Senate hearing on Sept. 10 that he was staying at the Dusit Hotel in Davao City, was indeed there.
However, the hotel management and staff were either evasive or unavailable.
The commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), Army Col. Randolph Cabangbang, on Sunday also denied rumors that PSG personnel were guarding Yang in a hotel somewhere in Davao City.
—With reports from JEROME ANING, NESTOR CORRALES, KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING AND INQUIRER MINDANAO INQ
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