Blue Ribbon thanks supporters; Senate to reply to SC


FEEDING a Supreme Court directive to comment on the legal challenge by Pharmally executive Linconn Ong, Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked the chamber’s legal counsel to justify the decision to cite Ong in contempt and detain him for his evasive testimonies on multibillion-peso pandemic contracts.

Sotto directed Senate lawyers to respond to the petition before the SC seeking to declare unconstitutional the order to detain Ong, who has expressed his refusal to further cooperate in the Blue Ribbon committee inquiry into juicy contracts landed by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. to supply personal protective equipment to government.

Sotto conveyed the senators’ confidence the High Court will uphold the Senate stance, given the jurisprudence on similar cases.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, a former Secretary of Justice in the Aquino administration, recalled the Arnault landmark case, where the Court upheld the senators’ decision to detain an uncooperative witness for six months.

In the 1950s case, the Senate kept French lawyer Jean Arnault in the old Bilibid prison after he refused to name the party to whom he gave a share of the payment to government for a private property.

Ong, through lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, earlier asked the SC to declare unconstitutional his detention in the Senate premises for what the members of the Blue Ribbon committee deemed evasive testimony regarding Pharmally’s transactions with the government.

Ong was brought to the Senate building in Pasay City, where he remains until now. Senators reconsidered a plan to detain him at Pasay City jail owing to fears for his safety, since he played a crucial role in Pharmally’s being able to bag P11 billion in negotiated contracts for pandemic supplies despite being undercapitalized, newly incorporated, and with no track record in making PPE products.

He initially declined to reveal how Pharmally funded its multimillion pesos’ worth of deliveries to government, given its paid-up capital was only P625,000, but Blue Ribbon members eventually gathered that money was loaned by businessman Michael Yang, President Duterte’s friend and former economic adviser.

Blue Ribbon says thanks

Meanwhile, the Blue Ribbon Committee thanked various sectors and groups for their overwhelming support to its investigation into the allegedly anomalous procurement deals that marred the government’s pandemic response.

Sen. Richard J. Gordon, committee chairman, said the outpouring of public support bolstered the Senate’s resolve to continue unearthing the truth behind the Pharmally deals.

“We thank members of the health-care sector, various universities and alumni groups, the academe, the Catholic Church, and reputable lawyers’ organizations for speaking out against the corruption plaguing this administration,” he said.

“Your Senate is more than determined to get the bottom of this anomaly.  The Filipino people have long suffered during this pandemic, and the government owes them an explanation where the public funds for Covid-19 response went,” he added.

Statements of support started pouring in after Duterte ordered Cabinet officials and their employees not to attend Senate hearings, and for the law enforcement authorities not to cooperate in serving its arrest orders.

Former health secretaries, notably Esperanza Cabral and Manuel Dayrit, public health advocate Tony Leachon, and medical societies have urged Duterte to allow the Senate to exercise its oversight function unhampered.

Among other medical and allied/paramedical organizations who signed the petition are Makati Medical Center, Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Pediatric Society, Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, and others.

Business associations, such as the Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, and Shareholders Association of the Philippines, have also made similar calls.

University systems under the De La Salle, St. Paul University in Manila, and several alumni groups of Ateneo de Manila and University of the Philippines have also spoken up against attempts to derail the Senate investigation.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Philippine Bar Association (PBA) expressed grave concern over Duterte’s directives, which they said, violate the separation of powers among executive and legislative branches of government.

Gordon, a lawyer by profession, underscored the importance of the Senate’s vast scope of legislative inquiry, which is as important as its lawmaking powers, in finding out how the government spent public funds for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are getting closer to the very meat of these shenanigans. We will pursue our investigation without relent, and run after those who deliberately lied and evaded our questions.  They will have to answer to our people,” he said.

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