The absence of a physical address for a company awarded P8.7 billion worth of contracts to provide the government with medical supplies will surely raise red flags to indicate possible corruption.
The amount involved was so huge that it should not have been assigned to a company without checking the owners and where it is located. But apparently and based on findings during a Senate hearing, the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. got contracts for medical supplies without the government knowing the owners or checking if it even had offices or storage areas.
All that former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao said before the Senate blue ribbon committee that is hearing the Department of Health (DOH) audit report was that the start of the pandemic made it urgent for the government to purchase those supplies. The government turned to embassies, including the “ambassador of China,” to find supplies. He did not know the Pharmally officials, but he had no reason to suspect fraud as members of the Chinese embassy were present in the meeting, Lao said. It was the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) headed then by Lao that handled the purchases for DOH.
Past audit reports on corruption have cited “ghost companies” that have received government funds for projects. No company officials and no office that can be reached should trigger suspicions of fraud as the company could exist only on paper.
“Ghost companies” may have the proper documents to exist legally, but they may have been established for illegal transactions.
The Pharmally company has the needed permits and documentation but, as the Senate inquiry showed, its top executives cannot be served subpoenas by the blue ribbon committee because they cannot be found at the company address. The company is located at a unit in the Taguig condominium that turned out to have been vacant for three years now. The Senate has not said that Pharmally was a “ghost company,” but something looked dubious.
Thousands of Filipinos have died during the pandemic; they are now ghosts or souls that hopefully are on their way to heaven. But companies behind any fraud in the use of public funds at this time must be placed in their own purgatory to await judgment.
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I was wrong to speculate that the Commission on Audit (COA) capitulated to political pressure when it released a statement of clarification over its report on the DOH. As pointed out by experts and constitutionalists, there was nothing wrong with the clarification because the COA report on the DOH did not declare any “corruption” but found deficiencies that can be explained.
I should not have doubted the auditors their sincerity as they were doing the difficult work of bringing out questions on the use of the people’s money. Heidi Mendoza, former COA commissioner, has turned active on Facebook after President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks on COA and pointed out in her posts the noble work of our government auditors. I agree with Mendoza.