President Rodrigo Duterte came to the defense of two of his former appointees who are embroiled in a scandal over the government's pandemic spending; Chinese businessman Michael Yang, as well as ex-Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao who used to head the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
In the past week, senators called attention to the suspected link between Yang and Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, a small firm incorporated in Taguig that has a paid-up capital of only P625,000 ($12,6000) that has somehow managed to be the government's largest provider of medical supplies amid the pandemic.
According to the president, the Davao-based businessman helped clinch the deals with Chinese companies because he is the one who has contact with them.
“He is a businessman, he knows how to use his money. He has contact with big companies in China and he helped businesses enter the country.” Duterte said, partly in Filipino.
Recent congressional hearings have uncovered that Pharmally has received some P8.68 billion ($175 million) in government contracts, including the purchase of overpriced medical supplies.
Duterte also came to the defense of former PS-DBM head Lao, who was the one to award the deal to Pharmally.
The Commission on Audit reported that PS-DBM placed orders for overpriced COVID-19 purchases including face masks priced at P27.72 ($0.55) apiece and face shield priced at P120 ($2.37) each. During a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the issue Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that the SRP for these items at P2-P4 ($0.04-0.08) per piece of face mask and P26-P50 ($0.51-$0.99) per piece of face shield.
The president argued that there is nothing wrong with appointing his fraternity brother who has worked with him since he was the mayor of Davao City. He stressed, however, that Lao should not be spared if he is found to be guilty of any lapses.
“What's wrong with paying a debt of gratitude? You're asking where he came from. He's my fraternity brother. But if you find that he did something wrong, send him to jail,” he said partly in Filipino.
Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.
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