Hontiveros flags link of ex-Duterte adviser Michael Yang to illegal POGOs

Bonz Magsambol

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Hontiveros flags link of ex-Duterte adviser Michael Yang to illegal POGOs

DUTERTE LINK? Senator Risa Hontiveros presides over the public hearing on illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Oprerators on July 10, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Senator Risa Hontiveros says they will have to investigate further to determine whether the evidence directly implicates former president Duterte to illegal POGO operations

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros expressed concern over the possibility that former president Rodrigo Duterte’s economic adviser Michael Yang had a hand in the illegal activities of the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) in the country.

During the Senate hearing led by her committee on Wednesday, July 10, Hontiveros said that a certain Gerald Cruz, who is linked to the illegal POGO hub in Bamban, Tarlac, is connected with Yang’s Philippine Full Win Group of Companies Inc.

Cruz is also linked to Pharmally Biological Inc., which used to be the parent company of controversial government pandemic supplier Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation that was allegedly financed by Yang. (READ: Michael Yang was Pharmally’s financier, guarantor to Chinese suppliers)

Cruz is listed as corporate secretary in Full Win and Pharmally Biological. (READ: Michael Yang, associates expand businesses under Duterte presidency)

“Mahalaga na ‘yung Gerald Cruz connection at definitely mas iimbestigahan pa yan ng kumite… Mukhang Pharmally group ito, same cast of characters. Kaya mahalagang we get to the root of it, dahil mukhang itong grupong ito, itong Pharmally group, ay posibleng andun nga sa roots ng problema natin sa POGO,” Hontiveros told reporters in a chance interview when asked about the connection of illegal POGOs with Yang.

(It’s important that we look into the Gerald Cruz connection. Definitely, the committee will investigate this more. It seems that it’s the Pharmally group, same cast of characters. So it’s better that we get to the root of it, because this group, this Pharmally group, is possibly included in the roots of our problems in POGO.)

Cruz is one of the incorporators of Brickhartz, which is a service provider linked to the POGO hub in Bamban. It was the same POGO service provider implicated in a separate kidnapping and human trafficking case flagged by Senator Grace Poe in a privilege speech in December 2022.

Hontiveros said that Xionwei Technologies, the POGO licensee of Brickhartz, was owned by Yang.

“Ang Brickhartz at Xionwei Technologies Incorporated, pareho ang email address. So malinaw pa sa sikat ng araw, through Gerald Cruz, between the POGO in Bamban ni Alice Guo and Michael Yang and through the email address, Brickhartz at Xion Wei – yes, Michael Yang may be involved in these criminal operations na ini-imbestigahan natin sa POGO,” Hontiveros said.

(Brickhartz and Xionwei Techinologies Inc. have the same email address. So it’s clear as day that through Gerald Cruz, between the POGO in Bamban of Alice Guo and Michael Yang, and through  the email address of Brickhartz and Xion Wei – yes Michael Yang may be involved in these criminal operations of POGO.)

Asked if the connections her office found directly implicate Duterte to illegal POGO operations, Hontiveros said they will dig deeper into the evidence.

“Sa panahon ni Duterte na nagkaroon ng de facto open door policy sa POGOs at nag-confront tayo hanggang ngayon ng napakaraming masamang epekto…. Lumitaw na nga ‘yung koneksyong Gerald Cruz at mapapuntang Michael Yang. Tingnan natin saan tayo dadalhin ng ebidensya kung this time around makokonekta yung dotted lines hanggang kay Duterte,” Hontiveros said.

(During the time of Duterte, we had a de facto open door policy for POGOs and we’re now confronting its bad effects. The connection between Gerald Cruz and Michael Yang emerged. Let’s see where the evidence will lead us, if this time around, we’d be able to connect the dotted lines to Duterte.)

The lawmaker even floated the possibility that Yang was the mastermind of illegal POGO activities.

“Ang laki ng papel na ginampanan niya dun sa Pharmally scam. At kung parehong Pharmally Group ay nandito rin pala sa POGO, so posible [na] malaki din ang papel niya dito. At aalamin namin sino pa ba ‘yung malalaking tao posibleng pati sa gobyerno ay bahagi rin dito sa POGO tulad noon sa Pharmally,” she said.

(He played a big role in the Pharmally scam. And if the same Pharmally Group is also implicated in POGOs, it’s possible he has a big role here. We’re going to identify the big fish, and investigate whether the government was involved in the POGO operations, just like in Pharmally.)

Yang was tagged in the Pharmally scandal at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021. The former Duterte adviser allegedly financed Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, the biggest winner of pandemic contracts, even though the firm had measly capital.

The Senate, led by then-blue ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon, conducted marathon hearings, uncovering P10-billion worth of pandemic deals awarded between 2020 and 2021 to what appeared to be a favored though thinly-capitalized company: Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation (Pharmally).

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Duterte and Michael Yang’s friendship through the years

– Rappler.com

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.