Senate panel's preliminary findings recommend charges vs. Yang, Lao, Pharmally execs in COVID-19 fund controversy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 19) — The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is eyeing charges against former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang, resigned Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, and officials of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. after several hearings on the COVID-19 response funds controversy, the panel's chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said.

Gordon presented during Tuesday's inquiry a slew of possible cases in connection with the panel’s preliminary findings, noting they will be shown to his committee members.

These include alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against the former officials, ex-Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) director Warren Rex Liong, along with Pharmally’s directors and officers.

Among the individuals from Pharmally mentioned by Gordon were its president Twinkle Dargani, corporate secretary Mohit Dargani, director Linconn Ong, and head of regulatory affairs Krizle Grace Mago.

Gordon revealed he is also seeking fraud charges versus Lao and Liong, who is currently Overall Deputy Ombudsman.

Estafa charges are likewise eyed against Mago and Liong. Mago, along with Pharmally director Linconn Ong and Yang, may also face perjury, according to the senator.

Also sought were charges of falsification of public documents against Liong, alongside former PS-DBM inspector Jorge Mendoza and current PS-DBM inspector Mervin Ian Tanquintic, Gordon added.

Disobedience to summons issued by Congress were also among the charges Gordon wants to be filed against Ong, Dargani, and Yang.

The preliminary findings also include violation of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act on the part of Yang, Ong, Dargani, and Mago.

Likewise listed was the filing of cases to support the deportation of an undesirable alien againt the former presidential economic adviser.

Ito lang po ang unang yugto ng pagpapanagot ng mga taong nangahas magnakaw sa kaban ng bayan habang nasa gitna tayo ng karimlan ng [This is just the first chapter of holding accountable those who dared steal from the nation’s coffers while we are in the middle of a] pandemic,” Gordon said after reading the charges.

Ong’s legal counsel Atty. Ferdinand Topacio slammed the “piecemeal release” of the panel’s preliminary findings and accused Gordon of “interpreting his own findings” instead of allowing the appropriate agency to act on their report.

“All of these issues inescapably point to the fact that the inquiry was improperly used as a demolition job against the present administration, to project the candidacies of Gordon and company, and to milk the media mileage occasioned by the said investigation for political pogi (handsome) points,” said Topacio.

Pharmally has been at the center of the Senate probe after bagging billions of pesos in deals from government despite only having ₱625,000 in initial paid-up capital. Among the issues raised against the company were the supposed overpricing of face shields and masks, tampering of medical-grade face shields, and anomalies in delivery transactions.

The persons identified by Gordon have earlier denied wrongdoing during previous hearings that they attended. Mago earlier admitted that Pharmally "swindled" the government, but later retracted her testimony in a separate hearing at the House of Representatives. CNN Philippines is also trying to get their comments about the latest development.

'Grand conspiracy'?

Meanwhile, Malacañang dismissed the supposed links of President Rodrigo Duterte to the government's questionable deals with the embattled Pharmally as "hearsay."

"Kwentong kutsero po 'yan (That's just hearsay)," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters on Tuesday.

He was reacting to the statement of Gordon, who has been the subject of Duterte's ire, that "this grand conspiracy could never have happened without the imprimatur" of the Chief Executive.

Roque claimed senators failed to prove overpricing in the controversial purchase of pandemic response supplies.

"Malinaw po 'yan. Kung wala pong paglabag sa batas at wala pong overprice, bakit magkakaroon ng 'grand conspiracy'?" he said.

[Translation: That's clear. If there is no violation of the law and no overpricing, why will there be a "grand conspiracy"?]

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.