Senate panel finds Duterte accountable for ‘complicity’ in ‘plunder’
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday accused President Rodrigo Duterte of complicity in “one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history” that involved his friends and appointees in the government’s multibillion-peso pandemic supply deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. in 2020 and 2021.
The panel chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon said Duterte “must be held accountable” for betrayal of public trust, a ground for impeachment that was not specifically recommended in his committee’s report.
Gordon’s committee released its partial report recommending criminal charges, such as graft and plunder, against several people, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the president’s close Chinese friend and former Presidential Economic Adviser Michael Yang, former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, and several Pharmally executives.
“The nation has been betrayed. While millions are unemployed, have become poorer and hungrier, are desperate even for just a glimmer of hope, what this administration has done is to exacerbate the already execrable and hopeless state the people are all in. None can be more unforgivable,” the report said.
The Senate panel has been investigating allegations of corruption in the P11.5 billion worth of contracts for pandemic supplies won by Pharmally, most of which was coursed through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) then headed by Lao.
The committee said the acts of “malfeasance, misfeasance, and/or non-feasance” by government officials in cahoots with Pharmally officers were consummated “under the nose of the President.”
“The amounts involved in the dirty transactions were enormous, producing a stench that would have been impossible to ignore in Malacañang,” it said.
“The President as Chief Executive should have known what his appointees and friends were doing,” the Gordon panel said.
“If he did not know prior to the Senate investigation, then it certainly came to his attention when the hearings were underway, and instead of investigating the matter or supporting any such investigation, he chose to defend and protect those closest to him who had dipped their fingers into the coffers of the nation,” it added.
A digital copy of the committee report’s executive summary was provided to Senate reporters on Tuesday night, but the full report was not immediately accessible.
It endorsed plunder cases against Duque, Lao, and Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong, who used to be a director at the PS-DBM.
Plunder charges were also recommended against Pharmally executives led by its Singaporean president and chair Huang Tzu Yen and Filipino executives Linconn Ong, Mohit Dargani, Twinkle Dargani, and Krizle Grace Mago; Yang, who is based in Davao City and was said to be Pharmally’s guarantor and financier; and his close associate Lin Weixiong.
The panel recommended graft and corruption charges against all of them.
It also recommended estafa or fraud charges against Mago and Mohit Dargani; frauds against the public treasury and similar offenses against Lao and Liong; perjury against Yang, Ong, Mago, Mohit Dargani, and Lin’s wife, Rose Nono Lin.
Liong, Jorge Mendoza, and Mervin Ian Tanquintic were also liable for falsification of public documents for their admission that the PS-DBM approved inspection reports even before the delivery of China-made medical supplies.
The report also sought Yang’s deportation over his alleged offenses, including tax evasion, and his declaration as an undesirable alien for immediate deportation.
The report enumerated alleged offenses committed by the President:
• The appointment of Yang, a foreign national, as his “economic adviser” in 2018, which allowed the businessman to introduce many Chinese suppliers that transacted with the government and “in the process enriched himself immensely.”
• Accepting an undercapitalized corporation owned by a Taiwanese fugitive (Pharmally’s Huang) with proven ties to Yang.
• Seeking to discredit the Commission on Audit (COA) which had flagged the anomalous transaction and making threats to prevent it from functioning.
• Trying to discredit the credibility of the Senate by “publicly attacking, maligning and disrespecting” a coequal branch of government.
• Ordering the issuance of a “patently illegal” memorandum preventing his Cabinet members and other officials from attending Senate hearings.
• Refusing to run after his appointees despite calls from the public and the Senate to compel their attendance in the hearings and failing to hold them accountable for “one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.”
“The most troubling question remains—why was the President so quick to defend those closest to him once their names were linked to the anomaly and then so eager to discredit the Senate investigation, prevent his appointees from cooperating, and absolve them of any liability?” the report said.
“Unfortunately, based on the President’s own behavior, one cannot help but conclude that he was aware of, allowed, and condoned the misdeeds of his closest associates and appointees,” it said. “For this, he must be held accountable.”
There was no immediate comment from Malacañang.
Duque told the Inquirer that the report still had to be affirmed by the entire committee.
“Nevertheless, if the blue ribbon adopts the recommendation, we will wait for the action of the appropriate tribunal,” he said.
He promised that “we will fully cooperate” with the court process “as we have nothing to hide.” “It is unfortunate that the panel turned a blind eye to the truth that was revealed during the Senate blue ribbon hearing that all procurements for the country’s COVID-19 response were made through the PS-DBM, the agency purposely tasked to undertake such activities. We at the DOH were not part of the activity as we were focused on the medical side of the pandemic response,” said
The Senate investigation was triggered by the transfer of about P42 billion in the Department of Health’s pandemic response funds, which was flagged by the COA for lack of supporting documents.
The Gordon panel had also unearthed several alleged irregularities, including findings that some batches of the face shields procured from Pharmally were substandard, had tampered production dates, COVID-19 test kits nearly expired when delivered and falsified inspection reports of the goods, among others.
Pharmally grabbed the single biggest chunk of contracts despite having a paid-up capital of only P650,000.