‘Yang Helped Finance Pharmally Deals’
The revelation bolstered suspicions that the government favored Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. in the awarding of contracts for COVID-19 supplies because of former presidential adviser Michael Yang’s connections.
President Duterte’s former adviser Michael Yang helped bankroll – or at least acted as guarantor to – the suppliers of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., an executive of the company testi-fied yesterday before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
Contrary to Yang’s previous claims under oath that he had nothing to do with the P12-billion COVID-19 supplies contract with government, Pharmally director Linconn Ong revealed getting help from Yang.
“We sought help from him (to gain) access to the companies, brands, funding. Our cash was really lacking,” Ong said in Filipino.
Ong’s revelation bolstered suspicions that the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) favored Pharmally in the awarding of contracts for COVID-19 supplies because of Yang’s influence on Duterte as well as his many connections in China.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, is digging deeper into the ties between Yang and the owners of Pharmally, which was formed in September 2019 with a paid-up capital of only P625,000.
“There is a travesty here. You get billions of pesos that you also share with suppliers and Michael Yang is always in the picture. He’s the one always saving you (Pharmally). How much did Michael Yang really loan you?” Gordon asked Ong, who was testifying online from his residence under guard of personnel of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms as he is under arrest by the chamber.
Pharmally chairman Huang Tzu Yen, who testified yesterday from Singapore, told the inquiry last week that he sought the assistance of Ong to ask help from Yang.
Huang and Ong were somewhat vague as to how Yang exactly helped them financially, initially saying Yang acted as guarantor to the suppliers based in China that they will be paid or loaned them some money.
Yang said he referred Pharmally owners to people who lent them money. But during the earlier part of the eight-hour hearing last week, Yang said he merely introduced Pharmally officials to Duterte in 2017 and that was it.
When shown documents from the Commission on Audit (COA), Ong admitted that Yang helped them for at least three contracts – for the supply of personal protective equipment sets (PPEs) worth P3.82 billion, test kits (P2.877 billion), and another batch of testing supplies at P887 million.
“We sought help from him access to the companies, brands, funding. Our cash was really lacking,” Ong said in Filipino.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon disclosed that aside from using funds from the DOH, the PS-DBM procured from Pharmally over P3 billion worth for COVID-19 supplies using the latter agency’s own funds.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson pointed out the P12 billion in contracts cornered by Pharmally is a huge chunk of the P42 billion the DOH transferred to PS-DBM to procure the supplies.
“The bigger mystery that has yet to be unraveled by the committee is – are there other personalities behind Yang, or did he act on his own?” Lacson asked.
Lacson also noted a large part of the governments pandemic funds come from loans that will have to be paid by future generations of Filipinos.
"The loans will be paid by our grandchildren. Are we not duty-bound to at least make sure the public funds are spent properly?" he said.
“High blood pressure”
Sen. Grace Poe rued that Yang was not present, only his lawyer Raymond Fortun, who told the panel that he and his client were supposed to appear but he received a call from the former presidential adviser that his blood pressure shot up and was advised to rest by his doctor.
“I’d like to know, since he’s supposed to be a special business consultant for this administration, what other projects did he broker? Were there other ‘Pharmally’ that got access?” Poe said.
Fortun said Yang was advised to rest for five days and would face the inquiry as soon as he feels better.
“He (Yang) looks healthy enough, he's still under contempt. I think blood pressure goes up and down. He's not getting a free pass. I presume he's in Davao City so he's not under pressure. I think he can face the music,” Gordon noted.
Yang has two arrest warrants from the chamber. The first one was for his refusal to attend the hearing, and second one was issued last Friday, Sept. 10, after he was cited for contempt for being “evasive.” It was not clear yet how the arrested would be made.
Upon the motion of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the panel is writing to the Department of Justice for the Bureau of Immigration to issue lookout order on Yang to allow the chamber to monitor his movements.
“He’s (Yang) an important dot that as we try to connect the dots,” Hontiveros said.
Ong disclosed on Monday that he has been receiving death threats after senators pressed him to give more details about his suppliers, including the names of the owners.
Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa advised Ong not to be “distracted” by the death threats and concentrate on the inquiry.
The committee also discovered that there were instances when the PS-DBM issued approved inspection reports of deliveries of PPEs from China when the items have yet to be delivered.
“Some inspection reports were signed even if the delivered goods were not actually inspected,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in questioning Jorge Mendoza, a former inspection chief of PS-DBM.
Mendoza, whose employment contract with PS-DBM was not renewed after 31 years, revealed that he remembers two instances when documents were signed as guarantee to Chinese suppliers that they would be paid.
“There was no delivery yet but we were advised or instructed to prepare the inspection documents, considering it will be an attachment to assure the China suppliers that they will be paid once the shipment or PPEs will arrive in the Philippines,” Mendoza told the hearing in mixed Filipino and English.
“There was this instance…during pandemic times, there was no…supply of PPEs. So we (had) to resort to China,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has not proven any corruption in the government’s procurement of pandemic supplies last year, as he urged the senators to file charges before the ombudsman.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra gave assurance that they would issue an immigration lookout bulletin order (ILBO) on Yang if they receive a request from the Blue Ribbon panel. “There is an ILBO ready for signing, but I will not see it until tomorrow. I think eight persons are named therein,” Guevarra said.
For Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 response has only worsened, with rising infections even as the Duterte administration continues to hit critics.
“I think the pandemic has not been resolved. The situation actually worsened. The number of cases of COVID continues to rise. It’s really mismanaged. I’m sorry to say this, but that’s how I feel,” Pacquiao told dzMM TeleRadyo. – With Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan