Editorial: Fat loot

No small thanks for the enterprise that unveiled billions of questionable transactions involving Covid-19 response funds. Blue Ribbon Committee senators are fighting one “true troll” after another, doggedly pursuing the investigative trail that linked top executives to the anomalous Pharmally Pharmaceutical Co., now a phantom of sorts with a fake address.

At the outset of the Senate hearing, President Rodrigo Duterte took a swipe at Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, a thoroughly nonsensical hairdo comment meant to divert or trivialize the investigation. This was followed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, calling out Sen. Franklin Drilon for an alleged overpriced purchase of personal protective equipment in the past administration. “Spoken like a true troll,” was Drilon’s response.

Recently, Roque said there is “no need” to probe the persons behind Pharmally as stockholders are separate entities from the corporation. His comment came after Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed that company chairman Huang Tzu Yen has a standing warrant of arrest for breach of trust issued on Dec. 29, 2020 in Taiwan. “Why is this government transacting with fugitives?” asked Hontiveros.

So how can any troll parry the facts when Pharmally, a baby corporation created in 2019 with less than half a million in paid up capital with no track record, closed deals that took the largest share of the pie—around P8.68 billion, almost half of the country’s pandemic response funds?

Approving the bloated supply contracts was Lloyd Christopher Lao, then executive director of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM). Government gave him the post despite a pending extortion case during his chairmanship stint at the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. Lao is President Rodrigo Duterte’s provincemate. He also held at one time the post of undersecretary of the Presidential Management Staff under now Sen. Bong Go.

Records showed that early last year, shortly after the Health Sec. Fransisco Duque III ordered the transfer of P42 billion of pandemic funds to the PS-DBM, Pharmally had a windfall of nine contracts amounting to P8.5 billion. Lao gave Pharmally undue preference despite its exorbitant prices—masks at P27.72 when other suppliers bidded at less than half the price. The details concerning PPE’s and test kits show the same pattern.

The more the President and Roque go haywire with their responses, the more they inspire suspicion. The whole scheme figures like “premeditated plunder,” as Drilon said, and in a time of pandemic, “this is treachery.”

We hope the citizens give this issue its sober attention as it entails stealing that is most revulsive. We demand serious accountability.