The Senate Blue Ribbon committee is set to report to the plenary this week the results of its investigation on the alleged PHP42-billion (US$840 million) anomaly involving the government’s purchase of COVID-19 supplies.

Among the list of persons recommended for prosecution is President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to Blue Ribbon Chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, “The President is part of this. You cannot not mention him (in the report).”

Gordon noted that the President had gone so far as to order his Cabinet secretaries not to take part in the probe, which Duterte dismissed as a “waste of time.”

This showed that the President had something to hide, said Gordon.

The probe, which began last August, held what was likely its penultimate hearing last week. Gordon said the final report was ready for submission except for some minor details which he would iron out over the weekend.

The investigation was held back by the stonewalling of key witnesses from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., resulting in the Senate placing three executives of the company under detention.

The Blue Ribbon had determined that Pharmally had sold grossly overpriced medical supplies to the government, some of which were also of substandard quality.

Proof that Duterte was involved in the scandal was when the President ordered his officials to ignore any summons from the Senate, according to Gordon, a former political ally of the President.

Gordon said the President could have ordered his Cabinet to cooperate with the probe if he had nothing to hide.

The Duterte administration also ignored red flags indicating that something was remiss in the deal with Pharmally, which had a mere PHP625,000 (US$12,500) in capital to begin with. Also, the company had no record of having previously transacted with the government.

These should have been reasons enough not to do business with Pharmally, which was also found to have a fake address in its documents submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to Gordon, Duterte should have ordered the arrest of key personalities in the deal, such as former Budget Department Procurement Service chief Lloyd Christopher Lao, who awarded PHP8.7 billion (US$174 million) in supply contracts to Pharmally.

Gordon said Lao was Duterte’s election lawyer, while another Michael Yang was a former adviser to the President.

Even before the scandal reached the Senate, the President could have asked the Justice department to conduct its own investigation. This is what a president is supposed to do, said the senator.

The public has been shocked when details of the scandal came out, coming as it did at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It was noted that the profiteers were mostly foreigners, with two of Indian descent and the rest of Chinese descent.

A Filipino presented by Pharmally during the hearings was determined to have no executive functions in the company.

The Blue Ribbon report is expected to recommend the deportation of Yang, who allegedly financed the transaction.

Gordon said that Yang had placed his man Lin Wei Xiong inside Pharmally to safeguard his investment and assure that his contacts in China get their money back.

The Senate had earlier placed siblings Mohit and Twinkle Dargani along with Linconn Ong under house arrest for contempt of the Senate.

The Darganis had attempted to flee the country by taking a private jet to Singapore from Davao.

Twinkle was later released on humanitarian grounds, while Mohit and Ong were eventually transferred to the Pasay City jail last November after they failed to produce documents demanded by the Senate panel.

Senate President Vicente Sotto said the committee should submit its findings for the plenary to take the proper action.

The Senate as a whole can adopt the Blue Ribbon report as its own so that recommendations to the Justice department or the Office of the Ombudsman would have greater weight.