House panel recommends estafa raps vs Pharmally officials

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2022 04:34 PM

MANILA — A House of Representatives panel has recommended the filing of estafa charges against executives of Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. in relation to the government's allegedly anomalous purchase of supplies for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a congressman said Monday.

While the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability found no overpricing in the purchase by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), it recommended filing syndicated estafa charges against Pharmally president Huang Tzu Yen, director Linconn Ong, treasurer Mohit Dargani and other company officials Twinkle Dargani, Justine Garado and Krizle Mago, the panel's chairperson Diwa Party-list Rep. Michael Aglipay said.

"The act of Pharmally officials and employees in soliciting supply contracts from the government despite full knowledge that it was grossly unqualified to do so and tantamount of fraudulent misrepresentation, resulting in damage and disadvantage to the government", makes the company liable for estafa as far as the committee is concerned, said Aglipay. 

“These acts of Pharmally officials are grossly aggravated by the fact that these were committed during the height of pandemic. By taking advantage of the more lenient procurement regulations under Bayanihan Act One, this matter, Pharmally gravely abused the system to the insufferable prejudice of the government," he added.

“On the element of syndicated estafa requiring at least five persons involved, in this present case, there are more than five. In fact, there are I think there are six or seven of them, and this is compliant already with the elements of syndicated estafa. Lastly, Pharmally obtained and misappropriated funds from the general public amounting to P8.68 billion, which resulted to the great prejudice of the Filipino people.“

Aglipay said the panel also recommended filing charges of falsification of public documents against Jorge Mendoza II and Mervin Ian Tanquintic of the PS-DBM Inspection Division, "based on their own admission that they signed the pro-forma ICAR while the goods were still in China and without the requisite inspection being conducted."

It further recommended that the Office of the President and other agencies "consider institutionalizing standard requirements that can better gauge the legal, financial, and technical capacities of suppliers."

According to Aglipay, the requirements imposed by the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) on the suppliers under the emergency procurement of the Bayanihan Act One "are extremely deficient in genuinely evaluating the capacity of a supplier."

He noted though that while the purchased goods are expensive, they still fell within the prescribed guidelines.

"I may agree na masyadong mahal kung fa-follow natin 'yong retail price. Pero kasi may guidelines po 'yong ating DBM, nafa-follow 'yan sa procurement," he said.

Aglipay said the panel saw nothing wrong with the transfer of funds from the Department of Health to the PS-DBM, even though it was flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The panel pushed for the abolition of the PS-DBM "in order to streamline government functions and services."

The PS-DBM was headed by former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao at the time the alleged anomalous purchases were made.

But the House panel did not recommend filing charges against Lao as well as President Rodrigo Duterte's former economic adviser Michael Yang, citing insufficient evidence.

Yang was embroiled in the controversy due to his supposed ties with Pharmally.

"The evidence does not warrant or is not enough for cases to hold," Aglipay said in a press conference.

The House committee is recommending submitting a copy of its investigation report to the Department of Justice, DBM, COA and Office of the Ombudsman.

The report will be submitted to the House of Representatives' plenary for adoption by the whole lower chamber, Aglipay said.

Once adopted, the report will be sent to appropriate government agencies for action, he added.

The lawmaker defended the House panel's investigation, which ran parallel to the Senate's own probe on the controversy.

"The Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability pursued its comprehensive and exhaustive review of the documents submitted during these hearings, and deliberated carefully and thoroughly on the premises established based on testimonies, relevant laws, rules, or regulations, as well as all other verifiable facts obtained by the committee," he said.

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio maintained the innocence of Pharmally's Mohit Dargani and Ong, his clients.

In a statement, Topacio said they "respect the findings of the House committee" and look forward to whatever actions would be taken in relation the panel's recommendations.

"We are confident that, given a full and fair hearing with all Constitutional safeguards freely at hand, the evidence we will present will result in the complete exoneration of my clients," he said.

The investigation on the government's transactions with Pharmally was first conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee last year. 

The panel's chair, Sen. Richard Gordon, had said that public funds wasted on anomalous transactions could have been used for the benefits of health workers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic in the frontlines.

Duterte said the deals were above board even as he said he does not care if the Senate "crumpled" Pharmally.

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