Duterte ‘will lose every day’ as Pharmally probe goes on, says Gordon | Inquirer News
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Duterte ‘will lose every day’ as Pharmally probe goes on, says Gordon

Senator Richard Gordon accused President Rodrigo Duterte of being a “bully” as he challenged him to “do [his] worst” against the lawmaker.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Richard Gordon and President Rodrigo Duterte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon vowed on Tuesday to continue his blue ribbon panel’s inquiry into the alleged irregular use of pandemic response funds of the Department of Health (DOH) despite the refusal of senior government officials to attend the Senate hearings on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We are heading into the eye of the storm. We are going to the heart of the corruption. We’ll reveal the extent of the conspiracies. We’ll expose the faces of the conspirators,” he said.

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Gordon said the committee would release an interim report on its findings next week.

“The president might get angry again and say we are prolonging this,” he said.

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But there is still a lot of information that the panel has yet to get, noting that the resource persons still refuse to say, for instance, where Pharmally got its money, he said.

Gordon said the committee would not be frustrated by the president’s attacks.

‘He will lose votes’

“The president’s statement that he will bar the officials from coming here won’t last. He will lose every day. He will lose votes. He will lose credibility every day because he is hiding you. He is defending you,” he said.

The president has repeatedly castigated Gordon and other senators in his public addresses since the Senate investigation opened on Aug. 18 on the irregular transfer of at least P42 billion in pandemic response funds from the DOH to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

The inquiry is now focused on the P11.5 billion worth of contracts for pandemic supplies awarded to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. in 2020 and 2021 primarily through negotiated deals with the PS-DBM and the DOH.

The president’s attacks intensified following revelations about the involvement of his friend and former economic adviser Michael Yang, a Chinese businessman who, according to Pharmally executives, acted as guarantor and who also loaned money to the company as it struggled to pay Chinese suppliers for the goods ordered by the Philippine government.

Yang had denied this, saying his role was limited to introducing Pharmally director Linconn Ong to Chinese suppliers and friends who could provide financial assistance. Duterte defended Yang, saying he was just a businessman.

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Palace memo

As directed by the president, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea issued on Monday a memorandum preventing top administration officials, led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, from attending Tuesday’s blue ribbon committee hearing.

The absence of Duque, who had attended 10 previous hearings, and other senior officials of the DOH, the DBM, and other agencies, dismayed senators who questioned the legality of the Oct. 4 memo.

“This has all the red flags of unconstitutionality,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

Drilon noted that the memo only covered the Senate blue ribbon inquiry on deficiencies reported by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the DOH’s use of its pandemic response funds and no other hearings of either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

“I cannot see any other memorandums as blatantly unconstitutional as the one before us,” Drilon said, adding that this could be challenged in the Supreme Court.

When he served as Senate President in 2005, Drilon led the Senate in questioning then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 464, which also prevented her officials from attending a Senate inquiry.

In an April 2006 ruling, the Supreme Court nullified portions of that order.

Asked if he would bring the matter to the high court, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would study the memo first before taking any action.

Lloyd Christopher Lao, who headed the PS-DBM but is no longer a government employee, also skipped Tuesday’s hearing.

P8.5B already paid

Senators alleged that the pandemic supplies, including face masks and shields, personal protective equipment, and COVID-19 test kits from Pharmally were overpriced.

Addressing  Duterte, Gordon said: “You have no rights there. You’re violating the Constitution.”

He said the ongoing hearings did not involve national security, executive privilege, or diplomatic discussions, which the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 were covered by the presidential ban.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Pharmally corporate secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani said the company had already received approximately P8.5 billion in payments since last year.

In response to a question from Drilon on whether the company could defer collecting about P1.5 billion more from its contracts, Dargani said the company should be compensated for all the items it had “delivered in good faith” to the government.

Pharmally chair Huang Tzu Yen said the company “never received a single peso in advance (payment)” from the government.

Duterte dare: File case

In his Monday night “talk to the people” television appearance, Duterte justified his order to his Cabinet members and other executive officials to stop attending the blue ribbon committee hearings, saying they would just be wasting precious time instead of paying more attention to the pandemic.

“I said you can crumple Pharmally all you want. Tear it, whatever you want to do with that company, just don’t involve my people,” he said.

He also pressed the Senate to bring the Pharmally case to court if it had evidence against the company instead of engaging in a “witch hunt.”

Officials who evade blue ribbon could still be questioned by the senators when they appear for hearings on their budgets, according to Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

The senators could then raise the questions they were unable to ask during the Pharmally inquiry, he said.

“To those who are not present in today’s hearing, we will see you in the budget hearings,” Pangilinan said.

Drilon said the executive officials were wrong if they thought they could frustrate the probe, though he would still like to get more answers.

“At this point, we have established so many facts. But again, I am as frustrated as probably our people that we can’t get into other areas that we would want to get,” Drilon said.

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TAGS: Duterte's memo to Cabinet on Pharmally probe, Pharmally probe, Richard Gordon, Rodrigo Duterte
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