DOJ giving ‘preferential attention’ to Pharmally probe findings

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) will give “preferential attention” to the Pharmally probe findings, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday.

The findings include the recommendations of two separate legislative panels that investigated alleged irregularities in the government’s multibillion-peso pandemic supply contracts with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., an undercapitalized trading company.

Guevarra said he was expecting the Senate blue ribbon committee and the House Committee on Good Government to provide the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman copies of their reports on their inquiries into the deals between Pharmally and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

The House committee released its report on Monday with recommendations for the criminal prosecution of several Pharmally executives and former officials of the PS-DBM, which bought the supplies on behalf of the Department of Health (DOH).

On Tuesday, the Senate panel released its 113-page preliminary committee report that held President Rodrigo Duterte “accountable” for plunder that allegedly involved Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former PS-DBM officials, Pharmally executives, and former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang, a close Chinese friend of Duterte.

NBI to do validation

Guevarra said the DOJ would conduct a preliminary evaluation to check whether the National Bureau of Investigation should validate the evidence obtained by the lawmakers.

“If in the affirmative, the NBI will be directed to conduct its investigation and build, if necessary, on the evidence already gathered by Congress,” Guevarra told reporters.

Asked if the DOJ, which had been tasked with leading the Task Force Against Corruption, would prioritize the biggest corruption scandal under the Duterte administration, the justice secretary said: “We’ll give it our preferential attention once it gets to us.”

The investigation by the House and the Senate panels was triggered by Commission on Audit (COA) reports on the use of the DOH pandemic response funds, including P42 billion that was transferred to the PS-DBM without proper documentation.

As a result of their inquiries, the legislators found that up to P11.5 billion in contracts were awarded to Pharmally in 2020 and 2021. The total was the biggest chunk won by a single company that had a paid-up capital in 2019 of only P625,000.

Difference

The two reports, however, differed substantially, with the Senate blue ribbon committee accusing Mr. Duterte of complicity in “one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.”

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