Pharmally exec decries being treated ‘like criminals’
MANILA, Philippines — One of the executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. who went into hiding after they were ordered arrested and detained by the Senate blue ribbon committee on Friday said they were being persecuted by Sen. Richard Gordon and other senators for “political gain” in next year’s elections.
“They treat us like criminals whose lives aren’t worthy of living anymore,” Pharmally’s corporate secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani said without disclosing his whereabouts or the legal remedies he might take against the senators.
“We tried our best to cooperate and respect them, but this was completely out of harmony with accepted legal standards,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters by Pharmally’s media office.
Dargani and his sister, Pharmally president Twinkle Dargani, were cited in contempt of the blue ribbon committee for refusing to comply with subpoenas to submit documents related to the company’s transactions with the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
“The President has nothing to do with our transactions with PS-DBM,” Dargani said. “We are being falsely accused for political gain. The election is near and we are like hostages. This is not for the country anymore. But for their political survival.”
Report: Duterte at center
On Tuesday, Gordon released the preliminary findings of the blue ribbon committee which he heads, saying that President Rodrigo Duterte was at the center of Pharmally’s allegedly questionable transactions and that a “grand conspiracy” to defraud the government couldn’t have happened without his “imprimatur.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the allegation against the President was just “tall tale” as no law was violated. Pharmally, with a paid-up capital of only P625,000 in 2019, was awarded the biggest amount of contracts for pandemic supplies totaling P11.5 billion in 2020-2021, mostly with the PS-DBM.
The PS-DBM, which was headed by former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao before he resigned in June this year, contracted Pharmally on behalf of the Department of Health (DOH) for face masks and shields, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and other medical items.
Payments to Pharmally came from the pandemic response funds amounting to at least P42 billion that the DOH transferred to the PS-DBM last year. The transfer was flagged by the Commission on Audit because it lacked supporting documents. This prompted Gordon’s panel to open an investigation.
The blue ribbon committee has since unearthed several alleged irregularities in Pharmally’s contracts. It found that some of the company’s face shields were substandard and with tampered production dates, that the test kits were nearly expired, and that inspection reports of the delivered goods were falsified.
It also discovered the crucial role played by Mr. Duterte’s Chinese friend and former economic adviser Michael Yang, who allegedly provided financial backing, through a loan, to the undercapitalized company. Yang denied the claim, which was made by Pharmally director Linconn Ong.
The committee recommended criminal charges against Yang, Lao, and his former colleagues in rhe PS-DBM, and Pharmally executives Ong and Dargani.
The Gordon panel has already taken Ong into custody and is holding him in detention for a contempt citation due to his supposed evasive and inconsistent testimony. Ong is now refusing to cooperate with the panel.
Another Pharmally executive, regulatory affairs head Krizle Mago, sought refuge in the House of Representatives to avoid being detained by the Senate.
In his statement, Dargani said the blue ribbon panel “failed to treat us justly.”
“Rather than impartially listening to us, they tried to get us to incriminate ourselves. They want us detained because we asserted our rights, they can’t get what they want to hear from us,” he said.
Gordon refuted his claims, saying that the Darganis and other resource persons invited to the inquiry were “treated fairly, as fairly as the circumstances warranted.”
“As Mr. Dargani continued to refuse to give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, he left the committee no choice but to use its rarely used power to cite him for contempt—not to punish him, but to compel him to give us a complete picture of the issue being investigated,” Gordon said in a statement.
“If he wants to clear the Darganis’ name, he and his sister should come forward and submit the pertinent documents we are asking from them. But while they continue to hide, people will believe they are as guilty of what they are accused of,” Gordon said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters that Dargani should have just complied with the subpoenas from the blue ribbon committee and submitted the documents that were being sought.
“I suggest they read the [Philippine] Constitution!” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a member of the committee, said they were just asking for basic documentary records, which the company was required to maintain for tax purposes.
“So where are they?” she said. “If Pharmally can’t document the cost of goods sold, that could mean their tax deficiency is in the several billion pesos.”
“Let me just remind Mr. Dargani,” she added, “all resource persons in our hearings speak under oath. If they keep changing their tune and their stories do not match, they are disrespecting the blue ribbon committee and the Filipino people.”
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