An Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executive testified last week that her company sold substandard and/or expired face shields to the government for use by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers at the frontline in the fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The frontliners were potentially exposed to the deadly virus while believing that they were sufficiently protected.

Pharmally regulatory affairs head Krizle Grace Mago admitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon committee that the expiry dates of millions of face shields were altered to 2021 when in fact they had expired last year.

Asked if her company’s actions were tantamount to swindling the national government, she answered, “Yes, I believe so.”

Her confirmation came after a warehouse employee of Pharmally earlier testified that they had been supplying “deformed, soiled, and substandard” face shields to the government.

The PPEs were ordered by the Department of Health for distribution to all hospitals nationwide.

Mago said the practice of altering the expiry dates of the personal protective equipment (PPE) was done at the behest of Pharmally treasurer Mohit Dargani.

Dargani denied Mago’s claim, saying he only recalled asking other executives of the company if the practice was advisable. But Mago said she could not have given the order without previous approval from one of her superiors.

Mago went into hiding the day after her testimony, although she had been advised by the senators to provide more information in exchange for protection.

A video of an unidentified warehouse employee confirming under oath that he and other workers were told to repack the PPEs was presented to the Blue Ribbon by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

That video showed the warehouse worker saying he, along with other workers, changed the expiry dates of some two million face shields, from 2020 to 2021.

The face shields were part of the PHP8.6 billion (about US$172 million) contract awarded by the government to Pharmally, which was later found to be serving as middle man as the company could not actually manufacture PPEs.

Of the defective and expired equipment, Hontiveros said, “Already disadvantaged in benefits, and now our healthcare workers are also disadvantaged in their protective equipment.”

“There is no grace within this greed,” she added.

The Blue Ribbon panel is investigating the government’s transactions with Pharmally, which was awarded the supply contract despite being only a few months old and operating at a meager paid-up capital of PHP625,000 (US$12,500).

When asked how the company could supply such a big volume despite its low working capital, Pharmally said they borrowed money from former presidential adviser Michael Yang.

Yang, however, denied being the source of the loan, saying it was his “friends” who funded the deal.

The Senate body, which had earlier ordered Pharmally Director Linconn Ong be placed under house arrest, had him transferred to the Pasay City jail for refusing to answer questions.

Ong had evaded the questions of the senators on how much money he had received from Yang.

The senators even offered to listen to Ong’s testimony in an executive session, with no media present. After talking with his lawyer, Ong continued to refuse to answer questions, resulting in his transfer to the Pasay jail.

Pharmally Chairman and President Huang Tzu Yen had earlier denied they were favored in the contract to provide the government with medical supplies. He said his company had been “unfairly judged” by the senators.

President Rodrigo Duterte has continued to defend the government’s deal with Pharmally, despite additional information that surfaced showing that four of the company’s top officials were under investigation in Taiwan for suspected financial crimes.

As far as he was concerned, the President said that Pharmally delivered the PPEs at the agreed price and on time, during a time when the country desperately needed the supplies.

Last week, however, Duterte said it was no longer necessary for anyone to wear face shields outside the home, only needing to don the shield in enclosed areas and places where there are large gatherings of people.