By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent

Health Sec. Francisco Duque said that he had divested his shares from his family-owned company in 2006, rejecting allegations of conflict of interest.

Senate Committee on Health Chairperson Sen. Christopher Bong Go said his committee would investigate allegations that a company owned by Duque’s family had been awarded contracts worth millions of pesos at the DoH which Duque now heads.

In a privilege speech delivered last July 29, Sen. Panfilo Lacson divulged that Duque’s company won two government contracts to supply medicine in public hospitals after being appointed Health secretary.

Lacson said the  two supply contracts which  Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc. (DPI) got lasted until October2017 when Duterte appointed Duque.

However, Duque stressed  he “had nothing to do with all of these contracts” because he divested from the company in 2006.

“I divested so, how can there be conflict of interest? That is pure conjecture and speculation. Under the law, you have to divest if you know there is a potential conflict of interest,” he said.

Duque said DPI had a contract with Philippine International Trading Corp. Pharma Inc., which he said was under the Department of Trade and Industry and not the Department of Health.

But he also said he would have to check the dates of DPI’s contracts with PITC Pharma Inc.

Duque also said he was not involved in the affairs of his family firm when he was a private citizen because, “I was too busy in Dagupan. We have a university in Dagupan where I served for almost two and a half years. This is in Taguig, so there’s no time.”

According to Lacson, the discovery of the ownership of the Dagupan building leased by PhilHealth led to DPI– a drug manufacturing company at 8 Veterans Center West Bicutan, Taguig City apparently also owned by the Health secretary.

Based on their data sourced from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS), Lacson said DPI, with active Platinum membership, is an accredited corporation that bids for government contracts primarily with the Department of Health since Year 2005.

“Ask a moron if there is something wrong with this situation, and surely, that moron will give you the correct answer, Mr. President,” said Lacson.

He said his office was able to acquire the General Information Sheet (GIS) of the company covering a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018.

The list of directors, officers and stockholders of Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc. revealed very familiar surnames: Cesar Duque, chairman with 60 percent shares; Joyce Ma. Duque, treasurer with 20 percent; Dr. Luz Duque-Hammershaimb, president with 10 percent; a certain Leon Guerrero, corporate secretary with 8 percent and Ma. Theresa SP Castro, chief accountant with 2 percent.

“Evidently, Mr. President, only 10 percent of the total shares belong to the non-Duque personalities from the list provided.”

“First, we ask, Mr. President, is it just a mere coincidence that Doctors Pharmaceuticals, Inc. became an accredited government contractor and supplier in the same year that Sec. Duque was confirmed by the Commission on Appointments as secretary of Health during the Arroyo administration in 2005?”

Furthermore, Lacson said they noted a number of suspension and product recall orders released by the Food and Drug Administration to Doctors Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

He said his happened during the incumbency of former Health Sec. Janette Garin, who was also acting director-general of the Food and Drug Administration.

“In fact, I asked her if she knew at that time that she was suspending a Duque family-owned corporation. She did not.”

Lacson related that based on a routine inspection conducted between March 10 to 12, 2015, the FDA reported non- conformance to GMP or Good Manufacturing Practice of DPI, hence ordering the company to immediately cease further manufacturing, distributing, and offering for sale, all concerned products for not complying with GMP.

“(Garin) also discovered that Doctors Pharmaceuticals was also manufacturing for other companies. Hence, the June 23, 2015 cease and desist order and the recall of all drug products from March 14 up to June 23, 2015.”

However, Lacson said the FDA noted in January 2016, through an investigation prompted by an anonymous complainant, that DPI continued its production line despite the stop order.

The same inspection report recommended that the company stop production and distribution of pharmaceutical products until sufficient data was presented to prove there was no contamination and that the products were safe for consumption. As in the case of amoxicillin, an antibiotic that DPI manufactured with the same machines used to manufacture supplements such as Garcinia, a supplement for weight loss.

Lacson then warned that if consumers took their supplements, they might be unknowingly taking antibiotics.

He said persons allergic to amoxicillin could be in danger.

Worse, if the antibiotic was consumed in sub-optimal amounts, it could contribute to serious problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most serious and dangerous issues the world is facing.

Earlier, Lacson said the PhilHealth faces  fiasco as plunder raps were filed against Francisco Duque III and his brother, Gonzalo Duque.  He said the case involves lease contracts that PhilHealth entered into with the Educational and Medical Development Corp. (EMDC) where the Duque brothers own shares.

“Frankly, when I tripped on this anomaly in June of this year and called it a clear case of conflict of interest, I never thought I would hit a nerve so bad that Gonzalo Duque, a lawyer, would call me names. It was a banter of poor taste borne out of anxiety. And how anxious he must be,” related Lacson.

He said documents show that PhilHealth’s Region 1 office had rented a building owned by the EMDC on Francisco Duque Jr. Street, Tapuac District in Dagupan City, from June 2012 to December 2018.

The lease payments of the Duque-owned building with a total floor area of 1,853 square meters steadily increased through the years: from monthly lease of PHP368,500 in 2012 to PHP432,305 in 2016. The contract for the year 2018 was amended to cover 2,051.4 square meters and the monthly rental was set at PHP529,261.04.

“Copies of EMDC’s General Information Sheets (GIS) in our possession show that Sec. Duque was among the eight stockholders of the company, all of whom are from the Duque clan.”

His siblings – Atty. Gonzalo Duque and Dr. Luz Duque-Hammershaimb – held the position of EMDC president as reflected in various lease contracts with PhilHealth.

Clearly, he said, at the time PhilHealth was paying lease to the Duque-owned building, the Health secretary held concurrent positions in their family corporation and high-rank government posts which created an undeniable conflict of interest.