NBI arrests physician, his daughter for ‘smuggling’ COVID-19 medicines

Published September 25, 2021, 3:22 PM

by Jel Santos

National Bureau of Investigation (2)

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has arrested in Cebu City a physician and his daughter for allegedly smuggling medicines used for COVID-19 treatment.

In a statement, NBI Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Director Eric B. Distor identified the suspects as Dr. Nelson T. Ong and her daughter, Raisa Nicole C. Ong, a third-year medical student.

Seized from them last Sept. 14 were 10 pieces of Tocilizumab vials and 25 boxes of Baricitinib tablets, Distor said.

Published clinical trial reports stated that Tocilizumab is “a medicine found to be effective in reducing mortality rate of severe COVID-19,” while Baricitinib “reduces time to recovery for people hospitalized with COVID-19.”

The NBI said the medicines were inside a box which appeared to be imported from India but no local importer or distributor and without the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved labelling and prints.

Director Distor said that last Sept. 14 the NBI-Central Visayas Regional Office (NBI-CEVRO) based in Cebu City received an information that shipment of unregistered and illegally imported Tocilizumab vials placed in a cold storage box is due to arrive from Manila to Cebu via Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight.

He said the shipment was reportedly consigned to Raisa Ong, whose name had already cropped up in the intelligence report as one of the active distributors of Tocilizumab and other COVID-19 related medicines in Cebu.

Acting on Distor’s order, the NBI-CEVRO operatives proceeded to PAL Cargo arrival area at the airport in Lapu-lapu City to validate and verify the information.

Distor said that when the operatives spotted the subject cargo, they requested the airport personnel to separate it and place it in a secured place until the arrival of the consignee or claimant.

The NBI statement said: “A Chinese looking female, later identified as Raisa Ong, showed up to claim the package. Subject Raisa Ong was accompanied by Subject Nelson Ong while processing the release of the subject package. Upon withdrawal of the package, Subjects Raisa Ong and Nelson Ong proceeded to their vehicle.”

“At this juncture, NBI-CEVRO operatives immediately approached Subjects. The operatives requested the Subjects to open the cold storage box and they agreed. Subject Raisa Ong opened the box and found therein ten (10) pieces of Tocilizumab vials and 25 boxes of Baricitinib, also a medicine for COVID-19, tablets all placed in carton packaging which appeared to be imported from India but no local importer or distributor and without the FDA approved labelling and prints,” it said.

When father and daughter could not present any document or license to import, distribute or sell the medicines, they were arrested.

Later, the NBI secured a certification from FDA that “no authority or license to operate as drug importer and/or any drug establishment of any pharmaceutical drugs has been granted to the arrested Subjects.”

The NBI said the FDA also certified that the seized medicines “were unregistered and illegally diverted.”

Last Sept. 17, the NBI said “the Subjects were presented for Inquest proceedings before the Lapu-lapu City Prosecutor’s Office for violation of Republic Act No. 3720 as amended by RA 9711, otherwise known as the ‘Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009’ in relation to R.A. 10863, the Custom’s Modernization Act.

Last Sept. 13, Cherry R. Jalaron has been arrested by the NBI for allegedly selling overpriced medicine for COVID-19 in Cebu City. The arrest was made after she sold one vial of Tocilizumab to an NBI poseur buyer for P97,000.