Michael Yang faces senators; denies hand in purchase of 'overpriced' med supplies

Former presidential adviser and businessman Michael Yang on Friday, September 10, was present before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's inquiry on the alleged overpricing in the government's procurement of medical supplies during the pandemic.

Former presidential adviser and businessman Michael Yang attends the Senate's virtual hearing about the Department of Health's disbursement of COVID-19 funds. (Screencaptured from Senate livestream/YouTube)

The Davao City-based businessman attended the Senate panel's fifth hearing after he was cited in contempt last Tuesday, September 7, and ordered arrested for failing to appear in the previous hearings.

During the hearing, the blue ribbon panel found Yang "evasive" with his responses to their question, prompting them to cite the former Duterte adviser in contempt for the second time.

Also cited in contempt was Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation director Linconn Ong.

The committee approved a motion for the issuance of new warrants for their arrest.

Yang was accompanied by a Filipino interpreter to help him respond to the senators' queries. He was in a hotel in Davao City, he told senators.

The panel is investigating the allegedly anomalous disbursements of the Department of Health (DOH) during the COVID-19 pandemic thru the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service (DBM-PS).

Senators have linked Yang to the executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, the newly-registered firm flagged by senators for bagging over P8.6 billion in contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPEs), face masks and other supplies for the DOH.

Asked about this, Yang, thru his interpreter, initially denied that he was linked to Pharmally.

"He doesn't know and he has no relation to Pharmally," Yang's intepreter said, adding that the businessman only knew about the firm's existence "thru the news".

But when pressed by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who reminded the Chinese national that he is testifying under oath, Yang admitted that Pharmally executives "did approach him for some assistance."

Yang, however, maintained that he has "not been involved or has no idea" with the firm's operations, nor the registration and set up of the corporation.

"When Pharmally did get their contracts, he has nothing to do with any of those contracts or awards," the interpreter said.

Yang said he "only helped" Pharmally and "only introduced" four Chinese suppliers for the firm's procurement of PPEs and medical equipment.

"And let them discuss things on their own," the interpreter added.

Yang, a Pharmally 'guarantor'?

Ong , however, negated Yang's denial, baring that the former president economic adviser had more participation in their company's dealings.

"In addition to that (introducing suppliers), he also guarantees for us," said Ong, who was the one of the five Pharmally executives who were also cited in contempt for skipping the Senate Blue Ribbon's Committee's previous hearings.

In confirming that Pharmally sought Yang's help, Ong also affirmed observations by senators on the company's financial capability.

"Kasi medyo challenging talaga 'pag dating sa financial (Because it is really challenging for us when it comes to financial matters)," he added.

Yang, he said, "guaranteed with the suppliers that, when we receive payments from the government, that's the time we pay."

He said an agreement was signed between Yang and Pharmally about the dealings with their suppliers.

"We do have an agreement po," Ong said, although he failed to specify the type of deal they had entered into.

While it was true that Yang was not involved in their transactions with suppliers, "I admit that when it comes to payment, we also need Mr. Michael Yang's guarantee," he said.

But when asked by Lacson, Yang maintained his distance from Pharmally's transactions.

"Mr. Yang only introduced and they negotiated on their own," his interpreter told the panel.

Cited in contempt, again

Senators noted the inconsistent and contrasting statements from the two resource persons and found them "evasive".

"This involves billions of pesos, hindi ganoon ka-simple na isang guarantiya, pagbibigyan ka ng suppliers (I doubt that just a simple guarantee from Yang, you suppliers will provide you what you need)," Lacson said.

"Government transaction pa ito para i-simplify niyo yong ganitong pakikipag-usap (It is also a government transaction, for you to simplify your negotiations like that)," the senator also pointed out.

"Sir, these are public funds, these are subject to audit by the COA, and even if you do not testify, COA has the power to inquire, tignan ang mga records ng (look into the records of) Pharmally kung magkano binayad niyo sa inyong supplier (on the amounts you have paid your suppliers)...Dahil pera ng taumbayan 'yan (Because that is the people's money)" Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also told Ong, who refused to divulge further information on Pharmally's arrangements with Yang and their suppliers.

For this reason, senators moved to again cite Yang and Ong in contempt and move for the issuance of new arrest warrants against them.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee approved the motion.

Duterte previously defended Yang, saying he has known the businessman for 20 years.