SENATE Blue Ribbon probers on Sunday faced another challenge to their ongoing investigation of alleged anomalies in multibillion-peso procurement of pandemic-related supplies.
This, after a Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. executive earlier tagged as a potential government witness went missing, after admitting to senators she instructed Pharmally warehousemen to alter expiry dates on medical-grade face shields delivered for use by government doctors and nurses.
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) chairman Sen. Richard Gordon confirmed on Sunday that Krizle Grace Mago had stopped
replying to their text messages, despite assuring him on Friday evening, at the virtual hearing, that she will “make a decision [on
accepting Witness Protection Program enrolment] at least until after this hearing is over.”
Mago told Gordon at the livestreamed hearing that “one of your staff is in touch with me,” but on Sunday morning, Gordon said on his Twitter account: “BREAKING! Pharmally Pharmaceutical official Krizle Mago hindi na ma-contact ng Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. Noong ika-siyam na pagdinig ay inalok natin siya ng pagkakataon na mabigyan ng proteksyon ng Senado ngunit nais niya muna raw itong pag-isipan.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III separately confirmed that the trail to Mago had gone cold, fanning Senate probers’ fear that powerful unseen forces were moving mightily to cover up traces of wrongdoing in what has been touted as the most scandalous episode of the government’s pandemic response.
The Blue Ribbon has been leading investigation in why and how the Procurement
Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), to which DOH transferred P42-billion of its pandemic funds, awarded an estimated P12 billion in PPE supply contracts to Pharmally, a startup with just P625,000 in paid-up capital but apparently strong backers, including former Duterte economic adviser Michael Yang.
Duterte has staunchly defended Yang and former PS-DBM head Lloyd Christopher Lao, and repeatedly attacked Gordon. He also moved to start investigations on Philippine Red Cross transactions with government. Gordon is PRC chairman.
At Friday’s ninth Blue Ribbon panel hearing, Mago was confronted by Sen. Risa Hontiveros with the testimony of a former Pharmally warehouseman who pointed to her [Mago] as the one who gave them instructions to remove the expiry labels on face shields they
were to supply to the DOH—via PS-DBM—and replacing these with tampered
Gordon, backed by Senate probers, offered WPP enrolment to Mago after she admitted at Friday’s hearing that it was true, as alleged by a masked witness [a former warehouseman of Pharmally] shown in Hontiveros’s video interview, that Pharmally delivered substandard face shields to government through
PS-DBM. The man in video said Mago instructed them to change the
expiry dates on the medical-grade face shields, even though many of these already were bent or dented, or had “yellowing foam” lining.
Confronted by Hontiveros whether it is true that she instructed the change in expiry dates, Mago
told Blue Ribbon probers, “that’s something I cannot deny”—a remark that Sen. Kiko Pangilinan said was a strong testimony, it being an “admission against self-interest.”
However, when Mago pointed to Pharmally corporate secretary Mohit Darghani as the one who gave her the instructions to change the
expiry dates, Darghani denied doing so.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Pangilinan said the BRC can move against Pharmally for delivering substandard materials to government because,
he noted, “Darghani only denied instructing Mago” to order the warehousemen to change the expiry dates. He did not deny that they
delivered substandard items to government. “He could have denied outright that they ever gave DOH any expired items,” but instead he
just denied giving instructions to alter the expiration stickers, Pangilinan noted.
Told in a radio interview that Senate President Sotto had confirmed the Senate’s losing track of Mago since the Friday hearing, Sen.
Angara said Sunday: “We’ve seen that happen before. Sometimes a witness is threatened or paid off to change testimony.”
The case of a missing vital witness follows the Blue Ribbon’s denunciation last Friday that certain electronic files on Pharmally’s deliveries had suddenly gone “missing” from the Google Drive files submitted by the PS-DBM under Lao to the senators.
Pangilinan counted at least 19 e-documents suddenly disappearing from the files sent to them, even while
Senate staff were still downloading them. The e-documents covered an estimated P4.4 billion in Pharmally deliveries, per Pangilinan’s estimates.