Pharmally exec Ong pleads for mercy, but senators unmoved | Inquirer News

Pharmally exec Ong pleads for mercy, but senators unmoved

By: - Reporter / @deejayapINQ
/ 05:07 AM September 30, 2021

FACE UP: The Senate blue ribbon committee will resume its hearing on government deals with Pharmally involving billions of pesos worth of face shields and masks, personal protective equipment, and COVID-19 test kits on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (LYN RILLON / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Wednesday ignored an appeal by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. director Linconn Ong to be excused from further testifying in the Senate’s inquiry into his company’s multibillion-peso contracts with government, saying he had received death threats to force him to blame President Rodrigo Duterte in alleged irregularities in the transactions.

The Pharmally executive has been detained since Sept. 21 in a Senate holding cell on contempt charges for what senators described as his evasive and inconsistent testimony to the Senate blue ribbon committee.


The committee is investigating his undercapitalized company’s P11.5 billion worth of contracts for pandemic supplies with the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Department of Health (DOH) in 2020 and 2021.

“Since the hearings began, I’ve received death threats which put not only me, but my family in danger too. I was told to point a finger at the President,” Ong said in an “open letter to the senators” late Tuesday night.


“My wife suffered through an ectopic pregnancy recently due to stress. So I’m really asking for your patience with me,” said the 33-year-old businessman.


Copies of the letter were distributed by his lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, who told a press conference on Wednesday that his client was suffering from “mental torture” while in detention.

Topacio, who had called the Senate hearing a “kangaroo forum,” told the Inquirer that he had advised Ong to stop cooperating in the investigation as he had already given all the information he knew.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters Ong’s letter did not deserve attention, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was “not worth reacting to.”

In an online interview, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the public should not be swayed by Ong and his lawyer’s “theatrics.”

“You know, the issue is not the Senate. The issue is the billions stolen. Let’s focus on that,” he said.

“They’re saying we should stop already, but if we stopped two-three weeks ago, these issues of overpricing and expired testing kits, wouldn’t have come out. The people deserve the truth,” Pangilinan said. “Again, the issue is Pharmally. So let’s focus on that. ”


No copy for committee

Although the letter was addressed to the senators, the staff of Sen. Richard Gordon, the blue ribbon committee chair, told the Inquirer that Ong did not provide the panel a copy.

In his letter, Ong said he was aware of the consequences of making perjurous statements but appealed to the senators to understand the tremendous pressure he was under.

“I understand what can happen if I lie under oath and I don’t want to put myself in that situation. I am now here in detention and may be brought to jail only because of things I cannot answer, which is why I’m panicking and getting scared,” Ong wrote.

“Some tell me I’m being used for politics but I still trust that the blue ribbon committee forms decisions that are fair to all,” he said.

Ong did not elaborate on the supposed death threats, but it wasn’t the first time he mentioned getting them.

During a hearing on Sept. 13, he told the senators that he had received threatening messages on his phone after his previous testimony.

“You and your family will be killed if you will not admit your connection with the chief executive,” Ong quoted one message as saying. “Mr. Linconn Ong, we will give you a week of time, you’ll be six feet under the ground. Enjoy the fruits of your labor,” read another message.

He did not say who sent the threats.


In his open letter, Ong apologized “if I seemed in any way evasive.”

“If I am just being honest, as an introvert, I am still very much in shock as this situation is truly overwhelming. I am just a quiet businessman. We have always cooperated as long as it is consistent with the truth,” he said.

Ong insisted that Pharmally had not done anything illegal in negotiating with suppliers and approaching President Duterte’s former economic adviser Michael Yang to be the company’s guarantor and for a loan.

The government purchased billions of pesos worth of face shields and masks, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits from Pharmally, a company that had a paid-up capital of only P625,000 and zero income before the pandemic struck last year.

“What happened with the transactions was we started loaning the goods and established our supply chain network which gave us the foundation to participate in a bigger project. We asked for loans from our network, from our families, from Michael Yang, because we wanted to deliver on time,” he said.

Neither Yang nor Ong had disclosed how much Pharmally obtained in loans.

House summons Mago

Ong said there was no overpricing as “we only submitted the prices that the company could comfortably offer.”

He also denied that the testing kits delivered by Pharmally were near expiration.

“That was really the shelf life at that time — six months only,” he said.

There were no ghost deliveries either, as the company “complied with ALL the requirements. Because if we didn’t, we would get blacklisted,” he said.

The senators are also looking into the allegedly irregular transfer of at least P42 billion in pandemic response fund from the DOH to PS-DBM as it was done without a memorandum of agreement and supporting documents.

Also on Wednesday, the House of Representatives good government and public accountability panel warned that another Pharmally executive might also be detained if she did not show up for its own hearing on the company’s contracts next week.

Krizle Grace Mago, an incorporator of the company and head of its regulatory affairs, had been summoned to the Oct. 4 hearing.

Gordon said she had gone “incommunicado” shortly after she testified in the Senate last week that her company sold to the DOH damaged and soiled medical-grade face shields whose production dates had been changed to make it appear that they were manufactured in 2021 instead of 2020.

Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel, vice chair of the good government and public accountability panel, said the House also had the authority to detain uncooperative witnesses in its inquiries.

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