Liong fights to clear name: I didn’t earn a single peso from Pharmally deals
MANILA, Philippines — A former official of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget Management (PS-DBM) is fighting to clear his name following his preventive suspension for his role in the graft-tainted government purchases of healthcare supplies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through his legal counsel Rafael Calinisan, Warren Rex Liong – then the PS-DBM’s procurement group director and now the Overall Deputy Ombudsman – and 32 other former and current officials of the Department of Health and the PS-DBM, were meted a six-month suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman pending investigation.
READ: Ombudsman suspends 33 execs in Pharmally mess
They are currently in hot water for their alleged hand in the graft-tainted, multi-billion deals awarded by the Duterte administration to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. to supply government pandemic supplies.
Liong broke his silence on Thursday, saying he would not allow this mess to tarnish his name and position.
“Gusto kong sabihin sa sambayanang Pilipino na wala akong ginawang kwestyonableng aksyon, at lalong hindi ako kumita ni isang piso sa mga transaksyong ito,” he said in a statement.
(I want to tell the Filipino people I did not commit any questionable act or earn even a peso from the transactions.)
Liong said all his actions adhered to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which sought to provide an exemption from the Government Procurement Reform Act to allow the swift procurement of medical supplies.
Liong then argued that he did not lead the bids and awards panel when the PS-DBM entered into the suspicious contracts with Pharmally.
“Noong panahon na ito ay bago pa ako sa trabaho at walang impluwensiya sa kinalabasan ng anumang pagbili [During this time, I was just new with my work and had no influence in the outcome of any procurement],” he added.
Liong lamented that his name was dragged into the scandal when he only held the position for a brief time.
“While I cannot speak for everyone, para klaro, hindi po ako kumita dito. Kaya ang hamon ko po ay ituro ng kinauukulan kung sino talaga ang kumita dito. Unfair na madamay ang mga inosenteng tao sa kasong ito,” he said.
(While I cannot speak for everyone, for clear, I did not earn from this. So my challenge is for authorities to pinpoint who gained from this. It’s unfair to implicate innocent people in this case.)
Can anyone be held liable under Bayanihan Act?
Defending himself in the Pharmally issue, Liong argued that he could not be held liable for criminal or administrative charges under the Bayanihan Act. He pointed out that the lack of overpricing flags from the COA, in addition to the primacy of the Act over any conflicting legislation, supported his case.
“Hindi kailanman magkakaroon ng pananagutan sa administratibo o kriminal kung sinunod ang Bayanihan to Heal as One Act dahil ito ay exempt sa mga requirement ng Republic Act No. 9184. Dahil dito ang pinuno ng ahensya o awtorisadong kinatawanan ay maaaring agad na pumasok sa isang kasunduan,” he pointed out.
(A person can never be held administratively or criminally responsible under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act since it is exempt from the Republic Act No. 9184. Because of this, the lead agency or the authorized body may immediately enter into any deal.)
Liong said no minimum capitalization was set in the Bayanihan Act and the implementing rules and regulations. Neither does it appear in negotiated procurement under the Emergency Cases of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Pharmally, a startup with a paid-up capital of P625,000, was awarded multi-billion dollar supply contracts by the government, which raised eyebrows.
“Ang layunin ng batas ay mabili ang kinakailangan sa pinakamabilis na paraan at makasagip ng buhay (The goal of the law is to buy what’s needed in the fastest way possible to save lives),” he said.
Liong acknowledged that his suspension was standard Ombudsman’s procedure but emphasized that the Bayanihan statute is unambiguous.
“Ako po ay umaasa na ang lahat ng kinauukulan ay maliliwanagan sa huli. Uulitin ko ang aking panawagan na kung may nagkasala–sabihin nila sino, paano, ano ang ebidensya–at iyon ang panagutin. Hindi ang mga inosenteng tao na gaya ko na sumunod lamang sa pinasa nila na batas,” he said.
(I am hoping that authorities will be enlightened in the end. I reiterate my call to hold to account all those responsible–just say who, how, and what evidence. Not the innocent people like me who just obeyed the passed law.)
Liong further said that justice must be served not only for complainants but also those “wrongfully accused.”
The Ombudsman’s decision acted on the complaint filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros and former Senator Richard Gordon, former chair of the chamber’s blue ribbon committee.
Two years ago, Gordon led a Senate inquiry into the Pharmally mess. The panel’s report said then-President Rodrigo Duterte should be among those held responsible for the fiasco since he appointed Michael Yang – a Chinese national suspected of being the real owner of Pharmally – as an economic adviser in 2018.
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