MANILA, Philippines —Former Sen. Richard Gordon on Friday praised a decision by the government’s chief antigraft prosecutor to charge 13 officials and private individuals allegedly involved in the graft-tainted pandemic supply contracts awarded to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., but he questioned why a Chinese friend of former President Rodrigo Duterte and other key figures were excluded from prosecution.
“What about plunder (against the) higher authority?” Gordon said in a statement after the Office of the Ombudsman disclosed the results of its investigation of the country’s biggest corruption scandal since the P10-billion pork barrel scam was uncovered in 2013.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved last week a recommendation by a panel of prosecutors to charge Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who headed the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), and 12 others with graft for conspiring to award P4 billion in contracts for COVID-19 test kits to the “favored” supplier, Pharmally.
Gordon headed the monthslong inquiry by the Senate blue ribbon committee into the Pharmally deals.
The investigation found that Pharmally, with a paid-up capital of only P625,000, won more than P11 billion worth of contracts, the lion’s share of all the pandemic supply deals, during the global health emergency.“What about Michael Yang (and) Lin Wei Xiong?” Gordon said. “Without exception, all (the) major players (in) this high crime should be charged as well.”
Yang, a Chinese national who was based in Davao City, was appointed by Duterte as his special economic adviser in 2018. He was identified by two Pharmally executives as the one who helped finance their company to pay Chinese traders for the pandemic medical supplies that it had acquired for the government contracts.
Lin was identified as Yang’s close associate who also served as Pharmally’s “financial manager.”
Gordon said Lin’s wife, Rose Nono Lin, and their subordinates should have also been indicted for the more serious crime of plunder.“It is my aspiration that the Ombudsman cast a wider net that will corral all participants in this brazen abuse of power,” the former lawmaker said.
“Let the wheels of justice roll,” Gordon said. “Let justice … proceed without regard to rank, office or access to the highest corridors of political power.”The Ombudsman did not respond to the Inquirer’s query on why no plunder charge was filed.
The blue ribbon committee recommended plunder charges be filed against the persons involved in the Pharmally contracts, on top of graft, perjury and other criminal charges.
It also recommended the prosecution of Duterte for alleged betrayal of public trust in appointing Yang, who introduced numerous Chinese pandemic supply dealers to the government “and in the process enriched himself immensely.”
At the time Duterte said he did not care what the senators wanted to do with Pharmally but criticized the investigation as a witch hunt that prevented government officials from performing their duties in response to the pandemic. In October 2021, he stopped officials from testifying in the senate hearings.
The committee report did not get majority support from its 20 members, mostly supporters of Duterte, sending its recommendations to the archives instead of the Ombudsman.Gordon said in his statement on Friday that the “heinousness” of the crime committed against the nation was worsened by the fact that it was done at a time when tens of thousands of ordinary Filipinos and medical front-liners were dying due to COVID-19.
“(T)hese public officials and (their) cohorts were like vultures feasting and greedily exploiting the calamity,” he said.
Slew of offenses
Martires also approved a separate decision by the Ombudsman prosecution panel to penalize Lao, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong, procurement management officer Paul Jasper de Guzman and former procurement division chief Webster Laureñana for administrative offenses, including grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Former PS-DBM officers Christine Marie Suntay, Jasonmer Uayan and August Ylagan were found guilty of gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and slapped with the same penalties.
The private persons to be charged with graft alongside Lao and the other government officials are Pharmally president Twinkle Dargani, treasurer and secretary Mohit Dargani, company directors Linconn Ong and Justine Garado, board member Huang Tzu Yen and company employee Krizle Grace Mago.
In another questionable procurement deal, the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday said Martires had ordered the six-month suspension, without pay, of Lao, four other PS-DBM officials and seven Department of Education (DepEd) officials in connection with the purchase of allegedly overpriced laptops worth P2.4 billion.
Only one of the 12 officials, Education Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla, is still holding office.
The Aug. 23 order cited a 2021 report by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the “pricey” laptops for teachers procured through the PS-DBM. The COA findings were included in a blue ribbon committee report submitted to the Ombudsman by panel chair Sen. Francis Tolentino.
The report said more than 28,000 teachers were “deprived of laptops to use during the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer units were purchased by the agency.”
Instead of 65,800 laptops, DepEd ended up with just 39,583 mainly due to the “huge increase” in the price per unit, from P35,046.50 to P58,300.The suspended officials also were slapped with administrative charges that included grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and gross neglect of duty, which the Ombudsman said “may warrant their removal from the service.” INQ
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