P8.6-B deal for COVID-19 medical supplies with new pharma firm 'unbelievable' --- Robredo

Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday, August 29, criticized the government’s P8.6-billion deal with Pharmally Pharma, a newly registered pharmaceutical company with links to President Duterte’s ex-economic adviser Michael Yang that sold overpriced medical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vice President Leni Robredo (Jansen Romero/Manila Bulletin)

In her weekly radio show over dzXL, Robredo said it was “unbelievable” what she watched during the Senate hearings into the contract with the Department of Budget and Management Procurement Service (DBM-PS) this past week.

She questioned the fact that only one company bagged the deal to supply the country with personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies at the height of the pandemic last year. This money, she said, was “more than eight times” her office’s budget, which has P900 million for 2021.

“Siguro kung P8.6 billion binigay sa amin (Maybe if the P8.6 billion was given to us) during COVID, siguro iyong (maybe our) operations namin napalawak namin (we could have expanded),” Robredo, who rechanneled most of her office’s budget to COVID-19 response programs, lamented.

But aside from the missed opportunity of what her office could have done with access to that budget, she slammed the awarding of that contract to a single contractor.

READ: Lacson sees 'large-scale corruption' in procurement of COVID-19 supplies

Robredo noted that it turned out that the contractor—Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.—was Chinese-owned firm and only had a capitalization of P625,000.

How can a company registered only in September 2019, or six months before the pandemic, and used a fake address can bag a huge government contract?, she asked.

Last week, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee grilled Christopher Lloyd Lao, a former aide of Senator Bong Go when he served as Special Assistant to the President (SAP) and former head of the DBM-PS on the P42 billion the Department of Health (DOH) transferred to the department to buy medical supplies.

READ: Ex-DBM exec admits: Negligence a 'possibility' in purchase of overpriced face masks, face shields

The DBM-PS served as a one-stop-shop for the government during the pandemic.

The P42 billion the Health department paid to it is the bulk of the P67.3 billion the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged as “deficiencies” in the agency’s management of COVID-19 funds.

Robredo pointed out it’s hard to believe Lao’s claims.

“Una, galing siyang Davao. Nasa campaign team siya ni Presidente (First, he is from Davao. He is in the campaign team of the President),” she said, hinting Lao to be a part of the Davao Group, which is comprised of businessmen and politicians originally from Duterte’s hometown Davao who are now in key government positions.

READ: Go denies ex-USec Lao worked as his aide

She questioned how Lao, who claimed to have applied for the position as Budget undersecretary, could have gotten such “plum positions” in the government despite saying that he was not a “political appointee.”

Even when Lao was at the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), there were already allegations of racketeering against him, the vice president noted.

Though this was not proven, Robredo stressed that Lao should have been red-flagged. Instead, he was transferred to a “prime position” in the DBM.

He shouldn’t have been allowed to hold such positions if there was a commitment to “clean up” corruption in the government, she said.