The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has recommended filing plunder, graft, and other charges against Department of Health Sec. Francisco Duque, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executives, and other government officials for alleged irregularities in the country's COVID-19 fund usage.
In the 113-page draft report publicized by Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Gordon on the night of Feb. 1, senators found out that "public funds were plundered as the Filipino people struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic."
They noted that Duque approved the transfer of over P40 billion from DOH to the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM) to rush the purchase of medical supplies.
"Instead of ensuring that crucial supplies were made available, the public servants who were supposed to be responsible for the people’s welfare lined their pockets, acquiring grossly overpriced equipment for stockpiling, favoring an unqualified, undercapitalized company," the draft report read.
The committee also recommended charges against Duterte's former economic adviser Michael Yang and ex-DBM Usec. Christopher Lloyd Lao.
Lao was the former officer-in-charge of PS-DBM when it awarded multi-billion government contracts to Phamally in 2020. It was awarded such high-value contracts even if it was only incorporated in 2019 and only had a paid-up capital of P625,000.
Yang, meanwhile, was Pharmally's financier. The senate also recommended his deportation.
Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong, Pharmally executives Linconn Ong, Mohit Dargani, Twinkle Dargani, Krizle Grace Mago, Huang Tzu Yen, as well as Chinese businessman Lin Weixiong should also be facing charges, according to the report.
Their report also recommended making President Rodrigo Duterte "accountable" for "one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history."
It said charges "must be considered" against Duterte "at some point after his term of office," as he betrayed public trust by "appointing all the people who approved these transactions and aggressively protected and defended them when they were caught in this horrible crime against our people."
The president is immune from suit during his tenure of office.
Duterte notably said that he wouldn't tolerate "even a whiff of corruption" in his government.
“The most troubling question remains – why was the President so quick to defend those closest to him once their names were linked to the anomaly," the report read, "and then so eager to discredit the Senate investigation, prevent his appointees from cooperating, and absolve them of any liability?”
“Unfortunately, based on the President’s own behavior, one cannot help but conclude that he was aware of, allowed, and condoned the misdeeds of his closest associates and appointees," the report continued.
"For this, he must be held accountable."
Malacañang, meanwhile, refused to comment on the matter, saying that it's a "partial, unofficial finding."
"The report is yet to be adopted by the Committee," acting palace spokesman Karlo Nograles told ANC. "It's something we cannot comment on because it is not yet official. Mahirap magsalita about it and wala pa kaming copy rin."
'Substantial number' of supporters in Senate
In an online briefing with reporters Feb. 2, Gordon said a “substantial” number of senators supported the draft partial report.
“I hope hindi mahati ang Senado," Gordon said. "It will be tragic kung mahahati ang senado on partisan basis. Ang dapat maghati lang ang Senado between truth and lies. Sana sumangayon sila sa katotohanan."
Sen. Manny Pacquiao was also present in the briefing, and said that he "fully supports" the report, signing it "with no reservations."
“Totoo ang lahat ng sinasabi doon ni Sen. Gordon," Pacquiao said. "Lahat naman nang iyan ay dumaan sa imbestigasyon, hindi naman isang beses lang ang hearing. Tiwala ako kay Sen. Gordon."
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, as well as Senators Grace Poe and Pia Cayetano have also expressed their support.