Foiled escape | Inquirer Opinion

As the man, escorted by government agents, walked toward the service vehicle, he suddenly bolted and ran back toward the plane from where he had just been ordered to disembark. The authorities gave chase and caught up with their target, who was warned that if he misbehaved again, he would be handcuffed. The man gave up, and the operation was over.

Thus ended the weeks-long manhunt for fugitives Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, top executives of controversial Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., who were cited in contempt and ordered arrested by the Senate for refusing to cooperate in the investigation into Pharmally’s multibillion-peso deals with the government involving COVID-19 medical supplies. Acting on a tip from concerned citizens, a team from the Office of the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms (OSAA) apprehended last Sunday afternoon in Davao City the Dargani siblings just before they were about to flee the country on board a private chartered flight to Malaysia. The operation foiled what some senators described as the siblings’ planned “grand escape via the backdoor.”

Now that the Darganis are in custody, they have to produce what the Senate has demanded: documents that will shed light on the finances, taxes, and other pertinent information about the previously unknown and vastly underfunded company they head that managed to bag the biggest pandemic supply contracts under the Duterte administration. They will “tell the Filipino people the whole truth” starting in next week’s hearing, vowed Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

The siblings, the corporate secretary/treasurer and president, respectively, of Pharmally, had been on the run since Oct. 19 when they were ordered detained for refusing to produce documents on the nearly P11 billion supply contracts awarded to their company by the Department of Health and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

Specifically demanded by the Senate are Pharmally’s ledgers, sales invoices, vouchers, official receipts, and cost of sales, as well as deeds of donation on some P33 million worth of goods that the company allegedly gave the government, which it had reflected in its audited financial statement. The papers should also reveal the amount of corporate taxes incurred and whether such taxes have been paid. Pharmally’s external auditor had, for starters, admitted that she didn’t see any invoices attesting to the company’s supply purchases or supporting papers for its supposed donations to the government, and that she had affixed her signature to a financial statement already prepared by Pharmally.

Documents sourced from the Bureau of Internal Revenue showed that the Darganis, along with former PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao, who had signed off on the Pharmally contracts, and former “presidential economic adviser” Michael Yang, said to be Pharmally’s financier, had failed to file proper income tax returns for several years.

Per Sen. Franklin Drilon, while Pharmally was flush with billions’ worth of contracts, Mohit Dargani paid only P97,241 in income tax in 2020, while his sister Twinkle paid a paltry P1,000. But they were able to buy luxury cars like a Porsche and a Lamborghini in the same year. Lao had no tax return in 2020, while Yang’s returns in 2019 and 2020 were “unreadable.”

Pharmally officials had consistently refused to provide the papers subpoenaed by the Senate, citing bank secrecy laws and data privacy rights as their defense. But even then, the previous hearings had already established “the imprimatur of the executive department from beginning to end,” said Gordon, based on the key participation of Lao.

Lao, who had helped in the Duterte election campaign in 2016 and would occupy a number of government posts thereafter, is likewise evading arrest. The OSAA visited his Davao mansion over the weekend to serve the arrest order, but it was found empty. Neither was Lao in his condominium in Cebu.

In the wake of the arrest order for the Darganis, the fact that they “sought sanctuary in the President’s hometown of Davao and plotted to execute their grand escape from there,” as Gordon put it, only adds to the perception that there is much more to the Pharmally-government deal than has been revealed so far.

The matter should be simple enough: If the Pharmally papers are sound and aboveboard, why were the Darganis fleeing? “Flight, especially on an expensive international chartered jet, is truly a clear sign of guilt,” declared Gordon. “Evasion has always been the strategy of the guilty.” Added Sen. Panfilo Lacson, as a warning to the still-at-large Lao: “There is no such thing as a safe haven — not even Davao City.”

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