Ex-Duterte adviser Michael Yang lent money to pay for COVID-19 supplies, says Pharmally chief

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The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee sustained the arrest warrant against former presidential adviser Michael Yang over "evasiveness" during a probe on the government's procurement of millions of COVID-19 supplies. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Former presidential adviser and Chinese businessman Michael Yang was found to have aided Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. in paying and securing suppliers of COVID-19 equipment to the country.

Pharmally head Huang Tzu Yen, a Singaporean national, admitted that the company borrowed money from Yang to pay for the supplies after it bagged the multi-billion-peso procurement contract with the government last year.

"I just wish to state on record that we did receive Mr. Michael Yang's help...we borrowed money from him," Huang told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in a hearing on Friday.

Huang made the revelation while asking the committee to reconsider its decision to cite his colleague, Pharmally Director Linconn Ong, in contempt due to evasiveness. Both Huang and Ong said they could not recall how much the company borrowed from Yang.

Pharmally is under scrutiny due to what lawmakers call its "questionable" qualifications to purchase millions of COVID-19 supplies. It had a capital of only ₱625,000 and was only six months old when it became the country's top medical supplier in the pandemic.

Lying under oath

Huang's revelation runs contrary to Yang's earlier statement, where he maintained he had no relations with Pharmally - other than introducing them to at least four Chinese suppliers. He said he was not involved in their negotiations.

"Mr. Yang said under oath he had nothing to do with Pharmally except to introduce them to suppliers. Mr. Yang has been very evasive and lied under oath before this committee," Senator Ping Lacson said.

Yang - who appeared in the Senate hearing for the first time - said through a Filipino interpreter that he did not work with Pharmally to obtain the contracts. They only spoke afterwards when Pharmally faced difficulties.

Earlier, Ong also said Yang assisted them by guaranteeing suppliers they will be paid once Pharmally receives its payment from the government for the delivery of COVID-19 supplies. The supplies, which included personal protective equipment and test kits, were later alleged to be overpriced.

Yang also reasoned that there were two Pharmally firms: Pharmally Biological in 2017, and Pharmally Pharmaceutical which the Senate is investigating. He said he had been referring to the former.

The committee ruled not to lift the standing arrest warrant against Yang due to his evasiveness during the probe.

"We cannot get a clear answer," Lacson said.

Yang was already facing a warrant after missing several Senate hearings. In a video of a 2017 meeting in Davao City with President Rodrigo Duterte, Yang was seen with Pharmally officials, which is why he was invited to the Senate for questioning.

Yang said he has not talked business with Duterte after 2017.

However, Senator Risa Hontiveros surmised there may be more to Yang and Duterte's relationship than what is being told.

Duterte had previously defended Yang, saying he was only the "middleman" for the government and a foreign company providing medical goods.