Singaporean investigated over overpriced medical supplies

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: Huang Tzu yen (Source: Screengrab from Senate hearing)
FILE PHOTO: Huang Tzu yen (Source: Screengrab from Senate hearing)

Singaporean Huang Tzu Yen, the 31-year-old president of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, is at the heart of an ongoing Senate probe on one of the administration’s biggest scandals – overpriced medical supplies amid the pandemic.

Despite having a capital of only P625,000 (S$16,500), the little-known company, registered only in September 2019, bagged 13 government contracts worth around P11 billion (S$291 million) from three agencies: the Procurement Service-Department of Budgment and Management (PS-DBM), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Transportation-Philippine National Railways (DOTr-PNR).

Linconn Ong, Pharmally's director, admitted during a hearing that the firm did not have PPE supplies and that the merchandise they delivered came from a local supplier – Brother Tiger or TigerPhil Marketing Corp.

Pharmally executives also revealed that the company did not have the funds to purchase the supplies and had to borrow from Chinese billionaire Michael Yang, a personal friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The senate probe uncovered how Pharmally bought supplies from TigerPhil Marketing Corporation, a local provider of the medical supplies which allegedly acted as a middleman. 

TigerPhil reportedly bought supplies from Greentrends Trading International, a company incorporated in the Philippines, and in turn, sold them to Pharmally.

Prices were marked up dramatically as the goods were transferred from one company to the next, with the middlemen allegedly making huge profit from the increased demand for pandemic supplies.

During the probe, it was revealed that in one such transaction, the government ended up paying P27.72 each for 500,000 face masks that Greentrends originally sold to TigerPhil for only P18 a piece.

The largest government purchases in terms of value and volume include 2.52 million sets of PPEs (personal protective equipment) worth P4.33 billion and three types of test kits at P5.95 billion .

In addition to allegedly inflating prices, Pharmally is also accused of providing substandard medical supplies and tampering with the expiry dates on goods.

After he denied allegations of corruption during the probe, Huang issued a public statement reiterating this.

He claimed that all his company’s business dealings are “above board.”

"It's unfortunate that our start-up business had been unfairly prejudged in spite of the fact that we were the only company that was prepared to meet the requirements of the Philippine government in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," he added.

For his part, former PS-DBM chief Christopher Lloyd Lao, Sen. Christopher Bong Go’s aide, claimed that there was a legal basis for PS-DBM to procure the face masks from Pharmally, citing provisions in the Bayanihan 1 law.

Meanwhile, Senator Richard J. Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, called the middlemen's actions "planned plunder" of public funds.

According to Taiwan's Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, which has listed them as fugitives, Huang and his father are both wanted in the country for alleged stock manipulation.

Huang claims to be unaware of the whereabouts of his father, Tony Huang Wen Lai, 60. He says they have been estranged since early last year, and have not seen each other since.

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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