Probing questions

Probing questions

Sen. Bong Go (left) and former PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao (Politiko photo courtesy)

This week, on Monday, Senator Risa Hontiveros told the Department of Budget and Management to stop accepting proposals from a local company allegedly linked to a financial fraud controversy in Taiwan.

In a statement, Hontiveros said “It’s the people’s money we are using to pay for the multi-billion peso contracts being awarded for COVID-19 response. Public funds should not go to firms we cannot trust…This dubious supplier must go.”

She was referring to the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, which bagged over P8 billion worth of deals from the DBM’s Procurement Service (DBM-PS) last year for the purchase of various medical supplies for COVID-19 response.

Senators have questioned the award for the company’s lack of track record and a low paid-up capital.

During the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on the disbursement of the Department of Health’s COVID-19 response funds last week, Hontiveros raised Pharmally Pharmaceutical’s “possible links” to the Pharmally International Holdings Corporation, a firm accused of colluding with businessmen in what was reported as “one of the largest security fraud cases” in Taiwan.

We heard Hontiveros say her office retrieved a disclosure statement from an annual shareholder report of a different holdings corporation showing that Huang Tzu Yen, one of the owners of Pharmally Pharmaceutical, is the son of Huang Wen-lai, chairman of Pharmally International against whom an arrest warrant was issued amid the fraud issue.

At the hearing, former DBM-PS chief Lloyd Christopher Lao said he was not aware of the two companies were related but admitted to senators he “failed to check” the background of the local firm.

“It is unacceptable,” Hontiveros said, “that DBM continues to award Pharmally with contracts. Is the DBM simply failing to do its due diligence or is it in cahoots with this questionable local firm?”

“Either way, it is deplorable all the same. We should not hesitate to end contracts with companies that may be involved (in) illegal activities, whether here or abroad,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon a day earlier suggested the government’s procurement of overpriced supplies from Pharmally Pharmaceutical constituted what he called a premeditated plunder.

Just to illustrate. Someone premeditates a crime by considering it before committing it. Premeditation requires that the defendant think out the act, no matter how quickly – it can be as simple as deciding to pick up a hammer that is lying nearby and to use it as a weapon.

With deliberation, a defendant deliberates by considering the act and its consequences (but not necessarily the punishment), and deciding to follow through with it. A deliberate act isn’t provoked or carried out in the heat of passion. But that a defendant was excited or angry doesn’t mean that she didn’t deliberate.

Senator Panfilo Lacson himself suspected a “large-scale corruption” in the DBM-PS procurement of COVID-19 response supplies.

Hontiveros has sharp questions that must not be ignored but answered forthrightly.

Instance, “Why is this government transacting with fugitives? Why are we doing business with people who have warrants of arrest in another country?… Did our COVID funds go to an embezzler, to a swindler?”

In a press conference, Hontiveros showed news clips and screenshots from Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice website showing how Huang Wen Lie, his son Huang Tzu Yen, and Yang’s business associate Zheng Bingqiang are wanted for a variety of alleged financial crimes.

Huang Wen Lie, also known as Tony Huang, is wanted for securities fraud, embezzlement, and stock manipulation. He is the chairman of Pharmally International Holding Company and was present in a March 2017 meeting with Duterte and Yang in Davao City.

His son, Huang Tzu Yen, is wanted for stock manipulation, Hontiveros said, showing a screenshot from the Taiwan Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau website. He is co-owner of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., the firm that got the biggest pandemic supply contracts from the Duterte administration.

Hontiveros noted that Huang had been wanted in Taiwan since December 29, 2020, yet the Philippine government still signed a purchase order with his company last June.

Rappler previously reported that Zheng was present when Yang toured Duterte in Fu De Sheng’s office in Xiamen, China, in 2015.

Zheng was also present at the March 2017 meeting of Duterte and Yang with Pharmally International Holding Company executives.

A Rappler investigation showed how Yang is connected to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, the firm that got P8.7 billion worth of pandemic supply contracts.

Many of the contracts and purchase orders greenlighting these procurements were signed by embattled former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who used to work under Senator Christopher Lawrence Go when the latter was still a Palace official.

But Duterte, on Tuesday, defended Lao and Yang, saying Yang was the “entry” point of Chinese businessmen hoping to make investments in the Philippines, short of explaining if Yang’s influence as his former economic adviser had led to the government awarding multi-billion contracts to firms he is linked to.

With the evidence thus far, we are persuaded to agree with Hontiveros in calling on Duterte to stop protecting these Chinese businessmen, given the alleged multiple anomalies being uncovered by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the government’s pandemic funds spending.

She said that investors should bring in money to the Philippines.

“These are serious issues and President Duterte should answer them, not evade questions… We want investors, but what kind? Are they really investors? Because it seems we are the ones who lost money here,” Hontiveros said.

The President latched the Senate hearing as full of “malice” and warned he would order government officials to either skip hearings or refuse to answer senators’ questions – although investigating questionable government deals is part of the Senate’s mandate.

Engrossing days ahead indeed.


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