Corruption of our health

Published December 9, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Diwa C. Guinigundo

Of substance and spirit

Diwa C. Guinigundo

While Omicron threatens to enter the Philippines’ area of responsibility and our health authorities continue to caution us against panic, the Senate hearing on Pharmally might as yet unearth “billions of pesos in ghost deliveries of government-procured coronavirus disease medical supplies.

Tax expert Raymond Abrea observed that there were no documents to prove deliveries were actually made. Out of P7.2 billion purchases reflected in the financial statement presented to the Bureau of Internal Revenues (BIR), Abrea’s team of experts found that P3.4 billion purchases, or nearly half, were unsupported by receipts. 

In the same hearing last Friday, indications of irregularity were quite obvious. Certain Pharmally executives were found to be investing beyond their means. Michael Yan, for instance, who was reported to have earned P1.584 million in 2016 invested P52.125 million with Pharmally. Rose Nono-Lin made only P1.361 million in the same year but accumulated a total investment of P136.353 million in four years, or an annual average of P34.088 million. Nono-Lin was earlier reported to have just found an P8.8 million Lexus LX450D in her garage.

In previous months, senior Pharmally executives were found to have bought luxury cars worth millions of pesos right after they were paid by the health department in 2020.  Mohit Dargani, for instance, is listed in the Land Transportation Office as owner of a 2019 Porsche 911 Turbo S worth about P8.5 million.  Linconn Ong is the proud owner of 2021 Porsche Carrera 4S worth P13.5 million and a Lexus RCF valued at P5.9 million. 

In the same hearing last Friday, both Dargani, corporate secretary and treasurer, and Ong, director, refused to disclose the location of allegedly missing financial records of Pharmally and as a result, the Senate decided to move them from the Senate detention to jail. The same documents could establish whether ghost deliveries were made to the health department.

Dargani was earlier arrested in Davao City by Senate security staff who was about to flee to Malaysia, together with his sister Twinkle. They refused to attend the Senate hearing and were reported at large. Twinkle is Pharmally’s president and registered owner of a blue SUV Lamborghini Urus with an estimated price of P13 million.

We expect this teleserye in the Senate to follow a new twist with the decision of the BIR to place Pharmally Pharmaceutical, including 75 other companies with COVID-19 supply contracts with the government, under tax fraud investigation. No less than BIR Commissioner Billy Dulay who disclosed this pivotal step as he submitted 23 tax records relevant to the Pharmally case. A special team of regional directors, district officers, tax fraud and prosecution officials has been formed to verify the tax compliance of the other firms implicated in this case. 

No doubt, the Pharmally case and its implications go beyond luxury cars in this time of pandemic and increased poverty, or making huge money out of government contracts. Pharmally is the kind of anomaly that exacerbates the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and deprives our people of budgeted social and health services. t is unconscionable, plain and simple.

Where the axe will fall depends to a large extent on the chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Senator Richard Gordon, who has been ridiculed many times for his heft. Gordon has remained unfazed; he is more than determined to get to the bottom of the case. When ridicule escalates to bodily threats, Gordon saw more reason to question the President’s one, prohibition of his cabinet from attending the Senate hearing on Pharmally; and two, defending those implicated in the case. To Gordon, they constitute both the President’s betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. 

To verify the status of the case in the Senate and to check its dynamics and direction, we asked Senator Gordon himself a few questions which he gladly answered even as he was in the thick of his senatorial campaign. 

This columnist: 

When do you expect to conclude the public hearing? What about the final report of the Blue Ribbon Committee?

Senator Gordon:

We have enough against Pharmally, but we have continued on for there are more anomalies awaiting sunlight, and there seems to be plenty more: already, we have found tax issues with the Chinese corporations who have supplied PS-DBM. We have also discovered, aside from corruption, probable tax evasion in the billions of pesos. 

We have only dealt, so far, with just one company- Pharmally- because it had the biggest supply contracts. There are more than 15 other companies which we would like to look at or investigate to complete the picture. 

And even with Pharmally alone, we have not gotten to the bottom: where did the money come from? Pharmally had P625,000 capitalization but bagged billions of pesos of contracts. Who facilitated this? What made them the favorite contractor? Who interceded for them because, clearly, Pharmally was not qualified legally, technically, and financially?