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Ombudsman exec: Go did not influence government-Pharmally contracts

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Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Hernandez Liong insisted during the congressional hearing Wednesday that nobody “powerful from Malacañang” influenced the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) to award the purchase of billions-worth of pandemic-related medical supply contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

Liong, a former PS-DBM director, also cleared  Senator Christopher “Bong” Go of any involvement in the P8.68 billion contract.

Liong, who was appointed to the Office of the Ombudsman in November 2020, during his time at the PS-DBM reported directly to then-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao when the government procured personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, face shields, and other medical products from Pharmally.

Liong made the assertion when House blue ribbon committee chairperson Michael Aglipay of Diwa party-list questioned him if Go influenced the government’s awarding of pandemic supply contracts as some senators alleged during the resumption of the investigation of the House panel into the alleged overpriced medical and health equipment procured by the Department of Health (DoH) for the national COVID-19 response.

“There are speculations that there is a powerful person who is influencing your decisions, are you close to Sen. Bong Go?” Aglipay asked Liong.

“I am not, Mr. Chairman. In fact, I was never under him,” Liong replied.

Aglipay further asked Liong if a Palace official instructed PS-DBM to select Pharmally as the government’s supplier to which the latter denied.

“Did any government official ordered the PS-DBM to award the contract to Pharmally?” Aglipay asked.

“There was none, Mr. Chairman,” Liong answered promptly.

“Did Sen. Bong Go asked the PS-DBM to award it to Pharmally? Aglipay asked Liong more specifically.

“He did not. No one asked us,” he replied.

Liong admitted that he has known Go when President Rodrigo Duterte was still the vice mayor of Davao City, nevertheless.

Mr. Duterte served as vice mayor for two separate terms in 1986 and 2010.

“I served as a consultant to then-Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Sen. Bong Go was then….I don’t know what his official designation was, but I was a consultant, but I knew him as far as that time,” Liong said.

Senators, in its counterpart hearing, suspected that Pharmally could be backed up by “influential government officials,” hence it was able to bag billions worth of pandemic supply government contracts despite being a start-up firm.

At least four senators led by Senate blue ribbon committee chairperson Richard Gordon expressed favor that Go’s connection with three former PS-DBM officials who were tagged in the alleged irregular purchase of Covid-19 supplies and all hailed from Davao be investigated.

No less than the President has repeatedly defended Pharmally as the Senate continues to examine government deals with the company during the Covid-19 crisis, stressing that it was him who ordered DoH and various government agencies to make emergency procurements to fight the pandemic at the soonest possible time.

National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. also faced the House panel on Wednesday and belied that neither Go and Duterte had given Pharmally preferential treatment through PS-DBM.

Galvez pointed out that PS-DBM was only instructed to “expedite the procurement” of the pandemic supplies amid the Covid-19 crisis.

At the height of the pandemic in March last year, Galvez recalled the scarce supply of PPEs due to skyrocketing demand for them. He cited alleged hijacked shipments and hoarding of PPEs by rich countries.

“China is the sole PPE supplier of all western countries and some Southeast Asian countries because of acute global supply of masks and PPEs. There was an instance where some supplies that were about to be delivered in one country—which I will no longer identify—had been hijacked in an airport. There, the supplier was paid three times the amount of the items, so it can be diverted to another country,” Galvez claimed.

“During the second quarter of 2020, there was really no supply and at least 17 (Filipino) doctors have died. We badly needed the PPEs,” he added.

Galvez said the President told him that the PPEs must arrive in the country “at once.”

“What the President meant by that is that he wants the supplies delivered here in three to four days. On 2 April 2020, I reached out to Lao of PS-DBM and gave him the instruction of the President to produce PPEs as soon as possible,” he recalled.

Galvez said reaching out to PS-DBM paved the way for the formation of “Task Force Resource Management and Logistics” tasked to specifically obtain critical medical supplies and equipment.

“What’s good about that is Lao was able to produce more or less 288,000 PPEs in April 2020 and we were able to deliver them to the hospitals,” he emphasized.

According to Galvez, a total of 699,500 PPEs have been delivered to 699 hospitals nationwide on 14 May 2020; 779,500 PPEs on 31 May 2020; 2,221,530 PPEs on July 2020; and 3,829,962 on 25 August 2020.

“There was no ghost delivery because everything has been accounted for,” the official underscored.

He said he was hurt that the Senate was allegedly quick to accuse them of plunder when all procurements related to the pandemic went through the right processes in line with the President’s directive.

“When the President asked you to get PPEs from a supplier at the soonest possible time, did the President mention Pharmally or any specific supplier?” Aglipay asked Galvez.

“I know the President well, Sir. His guidance is that he wants the supplies to be procured at once considering that we are in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. The President instructed us to immediately produce the supplies and that it is up to us where to get them. He never interfered in the procurement process,” Galvez responded.

“Now, I will ask you, did you favor any supplier? Aglipay inquired.

“When I was the chief of staff, I was prohibited from contacting any supplier. The President ultimately wants to ensure that there will be no corruption. I assured him that no government deal is irregular,” Galvez said.

Go and Duterte only asked about the status of PPE procurements, he noted.

The investigation in connection with Pharmally took place when the Commission on Audit flagged DoH for alleged deficiencies in the management of over P67 billion pandemic funds.

 

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