THE Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the filing of three counts of graft charges against former officials of the Department of Budget Management (DBM) and Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corporation over irregularities in the purchase of P4 billion worth of RT-PCR test kits at the height of the coronavirus disease pandemic.
In a resolution dated August 14, the Office of the Ombudsman recommended the filing of charges for the violation of Republic Act No. 3019, known as the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act, against former Procurement Service-DBM (PS-DBM) undersecretary Lloyd Cristopher Lao, former PS-DBM director and now overall deputy ombudsman Warren Rex Liong, and DBM procurement management officer Paul Jasper de Guzman.
Pharmally President Twinkle Dargani, the company’s director Linconn Ong, owner Huang Tzu Yen, and Justine Garado were also ordered to be indicted on the same charges.
Also recommended to face one count of graft charges were former PS-DBM director Christine Marie Suntay, PS-DBM acting division chief Webster Laureñana, procurement management officer Jasonmer Uayan, and former Pharmally administrative assistant Krizle Grace Mago.
“There is no doubt that without the individual acts of the aforementioned respondents, the procurement of the test kits would not have materialized. Respondents concerted and conspirational acts enabled the award of the multi-billion worth of contract to Pharmally, notwithstanding the existence of other corporations that are financially and technically capable to supply and deliver test kits at lower prices,” the Ombudsman said in its 37-page resolution.
“Said award to Pharmally was a complete disregard of the provision that the procuring entity should directly negotiate or procure from a legally, technically and financially capable supplier, distributor, manufacturer, contractor or consultant as embodies in the Government Procurement Policy Board and the Procurement law,” it added.
The charges are in relation to the procurement of over 51,000 RT-PCR test kits covered by three contracts.
It said that the procurement of 41,400 BGI Real Time Fluorescent RT-PCR kits, amounting to P2,877,300,000 from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, resulted in “undue injury”' to the government, totaling P4,165,300,000.
Despite having a start-up capital of only P625,000, Pharmally bagged a contract worth at least P8.6 billion from the PS-DBM for the procurement of face masks, personal protective equipment, and Covid-19 test kits on behalf of the DOH.
The matter cropped up following the audit conducted by the Commission on Audit in 2020.
A Senate investigation into the matter was initiated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, which was then led by Senator Richard Gordon.
Gordon said in its committee report that there was a “premeditated plunder” in the highly anomalous Pharmally deal.
It was also noted that the medical supplies from Pharmally were overpriced as compared to the offer of some other bidders including local manufacturers and that the company was favored due to its links to Michael Yang, a foreign national who was appointed as “Economic Adviser to the President” in 2018.
The committee also recommended to the Office of the Ombudsman that charges be filed against officials from PS-DBM and Pharmally, as well as former President Rodrigo Duterte.
In another resolution, the Office of the Ombudsman recommended the imposition of penalties against Lao, Liong, De Guzman, and Laureñana, who were found guilty of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Penalties were also recommended against Ylagan, Uayan, and Suntay, who were found guilty of gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
The penalties to be imposed against them were dismissal from service, with forfeiture of all of their retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government service.
Penalty, however, will be converted into fine in the amount equivalent to respondents’ salary for one year, payable to the Office of the Ombudsman, and may be deductible from respondents' retirement benefits, accrued leave credits, or any receivable from his/her office if they are no longer in service.
Former health assistant secretary Nestor Santiago Jr. was also guilty of simple neglect of duty over the anomalous Pharmally deals and will be meted with a penalty of fine equivalent to his one-month salary. (SunStar Philippines)