Ong questions Senate contempt order, asks SC to order his release


PHARMALLY Pharmaceuticals Corp. official Linconn Ong filed on Thursday a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to declare as unconstitutional the order of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to cite him in contempt and be detained for allegedly testifying “falsely and evasively” in connection with his company’s multibillion-peso contract with the government for the purchase of Covid-19 medical supplies.

In a 50-page petition, Ong through his lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, also asked the Court to declare as null and void for being unconstitutional the implementation of Section 18 of the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation, adopted via Senate Resolution 5 on August 9, 2010, as amended by Senate Resolution 145, adopted by the Senate on February 6, 2016, insofar as it punishes as contempt the act of testifying falsely or evasively.

Likewise, the petitioner is asking the Court to declare as unconstitutional Section 6, Article 6 of the Rules of the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigation also known as the Blue Ribbon Committee, adopted on August 14, 2019, insofar as it punishes as contempt the act of testifying falsely or evasively.

As immediate relief, Ong is asking the Court to issue a status quo ante order (SQA), which is the order of things prior to the committee’s issuance of the contempt, arrest and detention order against him last September 10, 2021, or a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or a writ of preliminary injunction to enjoin the enforcement of the same order.

Ong argued that the contempt order against him has no constitutional basis and violated his constitutional right to due process.

Likewise, the petitioner said the contempt order issued by the committee as well as the punishment imposed against him could be considered as an encroachment of the power of the judiciary.

“For a finding of guilt and the consequent imposition of a punishment for false testimony, the same being a crime defined law, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The person charged thereof is entitled to all the rights of the accused in a criminal prosecution as provided by the Constitution, including the presumption of innocence and the right to notice and hearing, among others,” the petitioner stressed.

“No tribunal except the proper courts may exercise jurisdiction, hence, try and decide the guilt or innocence of the accused under strict compliance with the Rules of Criminal Procedure and Evidence. Congress absolutely has no business in the determination of such guilt or innocence much less in the imposition of punishment,” he added.

The petitioner argued that under Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, where the power of Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation emanates, mandates “the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”

“Thus, as provided therein, the investigation must be ‘in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure’ and that ‘the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected, including the right to due process and the right not to be compelled to testify against one’s self’,” the petition read.

The petitioner added that the assailed rules of the Blue Ribbon Committee, which became the basis for contempt order against him and his subsequent arrest and detention should be struck down for being vague.

He said the rules failed to specify the standards as to what constitutes “testifying falsely or evasively.”

“Here, ‘testifies falsely or evasively,’ the phrase that purports to describe a punishable act, is utterly vague as it does not fairly notify the witness of how it can be committed nor does it restrict in any manner the discretion of the Senate Committee to adjudge an act as falling within its ambit. This should not pass the constitutional muster,” the petitioner said.

Furthermore, Ong said, the contempt order and the assailed rules of the Senate violate his constitutional rights under the Bill of Rights, particularly the right to notice and hearing before punishment, the right to be informed of the accusation against him, the right to bail, and the right to an appeal to an impartial tribunal.

“Worse, it gives the Senate Committee an unbridled discretion in the enforcement of the rule,” he added.

Ong said the Blue Ribbon Committee also encroached on the power of the Judiciary in ruling that his statements before it were false and punishing him with detention.

“To allow Congress to punish persons for such crime is to allow not only a grave violation of the right to due process, but at the same time, an encroachment of the power and jurisdiction of the courts to hear, decide and punish criminal actions,” he added.

The petitioner said that the committee should file appropriate cases against him if it is convinced that he is guilty of false testimony.

Ong is currently detained at the Senate building in Pasay and has refused to further cooperate with the ongoing probe by the Senate.

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