Drilon suspects 'cover-up' of anomalies in transfer of COVID-19 funds to DBM-PS

Senate Minority Leader Franklin maintained on Monday, August 30, that former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao is "covering up" for people involved in the alleged corruption of COVID-19 response funds transferred from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service (DBM-PS).

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on March 5, 2020. (Senate of the Philippines/Joseph Vidal)

"We see a pattern of corruption that was perpetrated by Lao and his cohorts. It cannot be done by Lao alone. Kaya mayroon siyang pinagtatakpan at iyon ang dapat nating alamin kung sino (That's why I think he is covering up for people and that's what we should find out)," Drilon said in a statement Monday.

Senators had questioned the DBM-PS' award of over P8 billion of deals to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation for the purchase of PPEs last year, despite the lack of track record and non-existent addresses of its officials.

Lao, who headed the DBM-PS before resigning in June this year, admitted that he failed to exercise due diligence in checking the background of the firm. This admission prompted senators to question his qualifications in heading the DBM-PS.

Drilon had surmised the Lao had an "influential backer" who allowed him head the government agency.

In a separate interview with ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, Drilon also suspected that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is also attempting to cover up supposed irregularities in his agency's transfer of coronavirus response funds.

The Senate's chief fiscalizer said he cannot accept Duque's explanation that the DOH cannot handle the purchase of the P42-billion COVID-19 response supplies.

He reiterated that the DOH and its officials have the expertise in procuring the necessary health supplies and equipment, and should not have passed the job to the DBM-PS.

"Para sa akin po, 'yon ay pagtatakip po ng anomalya (To me, that's an attempt to cover up anomalies)," Drilon said of Duque.

Drilon also stressed that Duque committed the "original sin" that allowed the alleged corruption to take place.

"Without the transfer of P42 billion from DOH to PS-DBM, the overpricing could not have happened," he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros agreed with Drilon, saying that Duque and Lao are among the "leading actors" in the supposed corruption of the COVID-19 response funds.

Like Drilon, she also raised the possibilty that officials of the Pharmally have "friends in high places".

Earlier, Hontiveros asked the DBM not stop accepting proposals from Pharmally for being linked to a company that is involved in a financial fraud controversy in Taiwan.