THE Senate Sergeant at Arms failed anew to find former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, a key figure in the questioned award of multibillion-peso contracts for pandemic supplies, but landed late Sunday a big catch: the siblings Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, top executives of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., the biggest contractor.
According to retired general Rene Samonte, Senate-Sergeant-at-Arms, the OSAA teams did not find Lao, former head of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management, at his known houses and properties in Cebu, Quezon City and Davao City.
The OSAA went to two condominium units in Quezon City, another condo unit in Cebu City, and finally, at Lao’s residence in a Davao subdivision.
While they came away empty-handed from the Lao residence in Davao, however, they snagged the Dargani siblings whom they had also been tracking down, per Samonte’s report to the Senate leadership and the Blue Ribbon committee, which earlier cited the Darganis, Lao and Pharmally director Linconn Ong in contempt for refusal to cooperate with Senate probers.
Ong was taken by the OSAA three weeks ago and is detained at the Senate premises in Pasay City, where the Darganis were also brought after their arrest on Sunday.
Mayor Sara: Nothing to hide
Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said Davao city is open to whatever the national government wants and needs to do, including the arrest of persons cited in
contempt by the Senate.
“This shows that the city is open to whatever national government has to do. In fact, we have to support what government needs,” she told a regular Monday public affairs program over Davao City Disaster Radio (DCDR).
The mayor said the Darganis’ arrest on Sunday at the Davao International Airport indicates that “we have nothing to hide here and appreciative of the actions of the three branches of government.”
The Dargani siblings were cited in contempt by the Senate in the ongoing hearing on government purchases of face shields and masks last year, for refusing to submit documents subpoenaed by the Senate.
The two Pharmally executives were about to board on Sunday afternoon a private plane en route to Malaysia—something that Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Richard Gordon described as moves of “evasion and flight” from the ongoing hearing, and which he said were indications of guilt.
While Gordon said Davao City was a “safe haven” for Pharmally officials and including former Presidential Economic Adviser Michael Yang and former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, Sen. Panfilo Lacson admonished that “no place on Earth is safe haven.”
According to the OSAA report, Mohit and Twinkle Dargani had arrived at the Davao airport on a chartered plane from Singapore and were about to fly out to Kuala Lumpur, when the OSAA, acting on a tip from the Bureau of Immigration, caught up with them.
The siblings were held in contempt by the Blue Ribbon after refusing to submit Pharmally’s financial records to senators.
The financial records, senators said, would validate their theory that the low-capital (P625,000) startup that bagged some P10 billion in contracts for face masks, shields and Covid-19 test kits through negotiated contracts supervised by DBM’s Lao had no capacity to handle such huge volumes of deliveries and had been favored right from the start.
Pharmally received an undetermined sum of financial assistance from former presidential adviser and Duterte friend Michael Yang. The Davao-based businessman insisted earlier his only link to Pharmally was introducing them to certain Chinese suppliers.
Meanwhile, Samonte said they continue to track down Lao, who stopped attending hearings after Duterte ordered Cabinet secretaries not to heed summons of the Blue Ribbon, whose chairman, Sen. Richard J. Gordon, the President had repeatedly attacked in his weekly national address.
Ong and the Darganis may be kept at the Senate, following Senate rules and jurisprudence on detention of uncooperative witnesses in legislative inquiries. Ong was earlier detained for refusing to provide details of Yang’s financial assistance to Pharmally. The three may stay in detention if they refuse to cooperate, until the end of the 18th Congress, on June 30, 2022.
Senators commended Monday the OSSAA and the Blue Ribbon investigating committee following the arrest of the Darganis.
Gordon hailed the performance of the OSSAA led by retired Philippine Air Force General Samonte and the staff of the Blue Ribbon under the leadership of Committee secretary Rodolfo Quimbo, citing their “silent and successful coordination.”
Gordon’s move to commend was seconded by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and supported by Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Imee Marcos and Senator Lacson, who was presiding over the plenary session.
“If the Darganis thought Davao City is a safe haven just like Michael Yang and Christopher Lao, they should think again. There’s no such thing as a safe haven,” Lacson, meanwhile, said.
He suggested that “they…stop thinking [they cannot be touched there]. As what was proven yesterday, they are now in the Senate premises. They will be ‘forced’ to attend the Nov. 25 Blue Ribbon hearing.”
At the same time, senators gave a thumbs-up to the leadership of Senate President Sotto III for firmly promoting the Senate as “an independent and co-equal branch.”
Image credits: Sanate PRIB