Duque, Lao may be liable for ‘premeditated plunder’ for DOH fund mess – Drilon

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao could be held liable for the “premeditated plunder” of the government’s pandemic response funds that went to favored suppliers, including the mysterious Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Sunday.
Drilon said Lao could face plunder charges as he was directly responsible for the Department of Health’s (DOH) supply deals coursed through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), which was then headed by Lao. Duque, on the other hand, “made it possible” for the transactions to happen when he authorized what could be an irregular transfer of funds to Lao’s office, the senator explained.

Neither Duque nor Lao could be reached for comment at press time.
In a dzBB radio interview, Drilon said there was apparent plunder of public funds in the overpricing of supplies for pandemic response under the PS-DBM transactions.

“It was all planned. If you look at the series of events—I’m a lawyer—if you don’t have direct evidence, you can look at the circumstances,” Drilon said.
“It seems to have been planned. If there is premeditated murder, here, we have a premeditated plunder. For me, in times of the pandemic, this is treachery,” he said.

Under the law, plunder is committed when “any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with [others] … accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts … in the aggregate amount or total value of at least P50 million.”
Suspicious deals
Documents on the DOH website showed that the Duque-led agency contracted Pharmally and another firm, Business Beyond Limits OPC, for the purchase of 2,005,860 face shields on June 11 this year, after the joint venture won the bidding with a price of P37.9 million, or P18.88 apiece.
This was on top of about P8.7 billion worth of contracts for allegedly overpriced face masks, personal protective equipment sets and COVID-19 test kits awarded to Pharmally in mid-2020 by Lao as PS-DBM head.
At the time the 2020 contracts were signed, Pharmally was just a few months old since its September 2019 incorporation with a paid-up capital of only P625,000, according to Drilon.
The senator noted significant disparities between the prices quoted by Pharmally and prevailing market rates at the time, including even the prices offered by other firms contracted by the PS-DBM, some of which were less than half of Pharmally’s.

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