Gov’t swindled by Pharmally? ‘Talk is cheap,’ says Duterte spokesman

Members of the Office of the Sergeant-At-Arms escort Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corporation Executive Linconn Ong inside the Senate building Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Ong was cited in contempt and ordered to be arrested by the Blue Ribbon Committee for evading questions during a hybrid inquiry on the 2020 Commission on Audit report and other issues related to budget utilization of the health department, especially expenditures related to the COVID-19 fight.

MANILA — “Talk is cheap” and more evidence is needed to prove a claim that Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. supposedly “swindled” the government during the COVID-19 crisis, Malacañang said on Monday.

Pharmally bagged some P8.6 billion in government contracts when the coronavirus pandemic began last year. An executive of the firm last week told a Senate inquiry that Pharmally sold medical-grade face shields that were damaged or soiled, with bogus manufacturing dates. 

“Ang tanong po tatayo ba ho ‘yang ganiyang testimonya? Tingnan po natin, kinakailangan po kasi ‘yan ma-substantiate,” said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. 
 
(The question is will that testimony stand? Let us see because that needs to be substantiated.)

“Noong ako’y nagti-training pa ng mga abogado, sinasabi ko hanggang maaari dapat physical evidence ang ating ibigay sa hukuman kasi kung testimonya lang, talk is cheap. Puwedeng mabili, puwedeng matakot so hanapan pa po natin ng substantiated evidence,” he said in a press briefing. 

(When I was still training lawyers, I say that as much as possible, we should give physical evidence to the court because if it’s just a testimony, talk is cheap. It can be bought, the witness can be coerced so let us find substantiated evidence.)

Authorities “will look into the matter,” said Roque. 

Asked what form this probe will take, he said, “We leave that to the Department of Justice to decide.” 

Roque also noted the health department earlier said it inspected the supplies from Pharmally before accepting them. 

Senators have questioned why Pharmally, incorporated only in 2019 with a P599,000 capital, was awarded P8.6 billion in government contracts when it had no track record of delivering quality and reasonably-priced materials.

The Senate earlier this September issued an arrest warrant against Chinese businessman Michael Yang, a former adviser of Duterte, for evading questions on the Pharmally deals.

Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday aired suspicion that Pharmally got help from people in power to secure multibillion-peso contracts. 

Roque said this was “absolutely bereft of merit.” 

“Salitang pang-eleksyon, desperado manalo,” he said of the accusation. 

(Election words of someone desperate to win.) 

Duterte has allotted a huge chunk of his recent national addresses to lambasting the Senate and denying allegations of irregularity in government transactions. 

Asked if the Senate probe could lead to Duterte, his spokesman said, “Absolutely not.” 

“Wala naman po silang ebidensya na nakukuhang may overpriced… Anong maili-link kay Presidente? Ingay lang po,” said Roque. 

(They have not collected any evidence there was overpricing. What could be linked to the President? Just noise.)

“Mayroon silang sinasabing tampering of manufacturing data, tingnan po natin kung may katotohanan ‘yan. Kung mapapatunayan naman ‘yan, the President will not tolerate that, kung talagang nangyari po ‘yan,” he added. 

(They are alleging tampering of manufacturing data, let us see if there is truth to that. If that’s proven, the President will not tolerate that, if that really happened.)

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