MANILA, Philippines — Senators expressed concern yesterday over the safety of Pharmally executive Krizle Mago who has gone incommunicado since giving a damning testimony against her firm during Senate investigative hearings on billions of pesos worth of COVID-19 supply contracts.
“We are concerned for her safety after what she confirmed to us during last Friday’s hearing,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, whose staff could no longer reach her after offering her protection that night.
“We offered her protection. After attempts to get her exact location so we could send our Senate sergeant-at-arms, she can no longer be reached,” Gordon said.
During the Senate hearing, Mago had confirmed the exposé of Sen. Risa Hontiveros that face shields delivered to the Department of Health (DOH) had tampered certification labels.
Hontiveros had a video-recorded testimony from a former warehouse worker that Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. owners ordered the tampering of certification labels of old and creased face shields last August to make it appear they were manufactured only this year.
The witness, whose identity was not disclosed, said it was Mago who ordered them to tamper with the labels. The witness also said he once saw Mohit Dargani, one of the owners of Pharmally, visit the warehouse.
In confirming the testimony of Hontiveros’ witness, Mago said: “That (order to warehouse workers) is something I cannot deny.”
Yesterday, Hontiveros shared Gordon’s worries and said her office is open to provide Mago help and protection. “I pray that she’s safe and ready to cooperate for the truth as well as the welfare of her fellow workers in health care,” she said.
Gordon’s staff provided this timeline of the Senate’s correspondence with Mago:
5:47 p.m. (Sept. 24) – the committee asked Mago for her address for the deployment of Senate sergeant-at-arms staff to her location;
7:27 p.m. – Mago, who was testifying online, told the committee she would contact them about her location after the hearing;
8:15 a.m. (Sept. 25), the committee staff sent Mago a message to follow up on her location but she did not reply;
9:13 a.m., a staff member of the panel tried calling Mago, but she could not be reached.
During the hearing, Mago told senators that it was Dargani who ordered her to instruct warehouse workers to tamper with the labels.
Dargani denied giving such orders and said he was willing to face the witness “head on.”
When asked by Gordon if by tampering the face shields, the company had “swindled” the government, Mago replied: “I believe that is the case.”
Mago also admitted in a separate line of questioning that she was nominated “for convenience” to be an officer of another company, Business Beyond Limits, which apparently bagged another supply contract with the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), the procuring agency of the DOH in this case.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan asked the Senate to provide Mago with protection to allow her to testify freely as members of the panel believed that she was just used by owners of Pharmally.
Mago, a licensed pharmacist, told senators she is willing to cooperate with the investigation and tell everything she knows about the transactions of the company with PS-DBM officials.
When it appeared that Mago was getting bothered and hesitating with some of her answers, Hontiveros made a motion to provide her protection that was seconded by Pangilinan. Gordon, however, said Mago still has the final say on whether or not she would agree to it.
Mago asked for time to think of the offer of protection because of the tight situation she was in but did not elaborate.
Senators believe that Mago knows a lot, especially since she was tasked to prepare all the paperwork with PS-DBM and was sometimes physically present in some of the deliveries to the agency’s warehouse in Manila.
Pangilinan surmised yesterday that Mago could also have changed her mind and no longer wanted to cooperate.
“Fear, self-preservation and self-interest. A mix of all three most likely,” he said.
The senators’ concern over the safety of their witnesses also extended to Lincoln Ong, one of the owners of Pharmally who is currently detained at the Senate for contempt after he was found “lying” and being “evasive” during the hearing.
Ong was supposed to be transferred to the Pasay City Jail on Friday for being evasive and vague in responding to senators’ queries, but it did not push through.
Ong was also offered to be placed under the Senate’s witness protection program but the Pharmally official said he would still have to consult his lawyers.
Last Saturday, Gordon disclosed that senators have changed their minds regarding his transfer to jail, indicating that Ong’s life may be placed at risk with such a move.
“He (Ong) suddenly might be taken (from custody). His cohorts are powerful, what if he was snatched? He could be pulled out (of jail), poked,” Gordon told dwiZ in Filipino.
Ong was the one who first testified that businessman Michael Yang, a former economics adviser of President Duterte, was the one who helped Pharmally finance their operations to supply COVID-19 items to PS-DBM.
Out of the P42-billion in DOH funds for COVID-19 supplies, Pharmally was able to corner over P11 billion of it in several supply contracts, some of which continued until June this year.
“What is questionable is that in spite of clear lack of track record in transacting business with the government, not to mention their lack of ‘technical, legal and financial capability’ as stated in the GPPB (Government Procurement Policy Board) passed resolution last March 09, 2020, and being a newly registered corporation, Pharmally leads the 44 other firms in terms of nominal value of contracts,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Pangilinan said any remaining payables to Pharmally must be withheld given the alleged corruption uncovered by senators.