EDITORIAL — Remember Pharmally?

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Remember Pharmally?

The COVID-19 pandemic is over, but the scandals related to the government’s response remain unresolved. This month the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of two persons directly involved in the response for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The dismissal order dated May 8 came too late for Francisco Duque III and Lloyd Christopher Lao since they have ended their stint as secretary of health and executive director of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management or PS-DBM, respectively. But they were fined the equivalent of their salaries for one year. The order also includes forfeiture of their retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from public office.

Both officials also face a graft case in connection with the transfer of P41.46 billion in funds from the Department of Health to the PS-DBM in 2020 for the procurement of supplies for the COVID response. Of the amount, P11.5 billion was paid to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a newly formed firm with a paid-up capital of only P625,000, for the supply of masks, face shields and other items, according to the investigation carried out by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee under Richard Gordon.

The ombudsman in another order affirmed its ruling finding probable cause to indict Lao, other former PS-DBM officials Warren Lex Liong and Paul Jasper de Guzman as well as Pharmally executives for graft before the Sandiganbayan. People wondered why the indictment was for graft rather than the heavier offense of plunder. There are also questions on whether the Pharmally officials are still in the country: its president Twinkle Dargani, treasurer and secretary Mohit Dargani, directors Linconn Ong and Justine Garado and board member Huang Tzu Yen.

Gordon also asked why businessman Michael Yang, former adviser of Rodrigo Duterte who according to the Senate probe allegedly brokered the Pharmally deal, and Rose Nono Lin, treasurer and incorporator of an alleged sister company of Pharmally Pharmaceuticals were not indicted.

Gordon had failed to get enough signatures from fellow senators for his report that included Duterte among those who should be held responsible for the scandal. DOH officials had said that they turned over to the PS-DBM the task of procuring the COVID supplies, together with the funding, because they deemed the budget agency to have the expertise for the emergency procurement.

The recent moves by the ombudsman indicate some progress in efforts to hold accountable those who allegedly profited from a multibillion-peso deal, to the detriment of the people during the worst health emergency to hit the country. Whether the moves will uncover the truth and deliver blind justice remains to be seen.

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