Senate leaders slam 'kangaroo court' tag on Blue Ribbon probe

Published September 27, 2021, 3:00 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators have taken exception to lawyer Ferdinand Topacio calling the chamber’s Blue Ribbon Committee a “kangaroo forum” in investigating the government’s deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III bangs the gavel signifying the start of the plenary session on November 24, 2020.(Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB)

Topacio issued the statement as he explained the decision of Pharmally director Linconn Ong to back out of his reported request to meet senators in an executive session to divulge details on how the firm was able to afford its provision of COVID-19 supplies to the government despite a low paid-up capital.

Ong wrote to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Monday, September 27, saying he is declining the panel’s offer for an executive session.

“I regret to inform you that, acting upon the advice of counsel, I’m declining your kind invitation for me to participate in the executive session regarding the matter under investigation,” Ong said in his handwritten letter, hours after Sen. Panfilo Lacson announced that the resource person will be revealing information on Pharmally’s financial dealings in a closed-door meeting.

Topacio is Ong’s legal counsel.

“We are reconsidering that (cooperating with the Senate inquiry). Because this is not a fair forum. This is a Kangaroo forum,” Topacio said of the Blue Ribbon panel’s hearings.

“Some members of the Blue Ribbon Committee are not out to get the truth. They’re out for blood. Kaya naman unfair sa kliyente ko kung siya ang gagawing pawn, gagawing sacrificial lamb para makakuha ng dugo (That’s why it’s unfair for my client is he will be used as a pawn, a sacrificial lamb),” he added.

Topacio also reportedly threatened to sue the Senate for abuse of authority if senators presses his client to speak out.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto III rejected the remarks.

“Never threaten or call the Senate names! What do they expect by threatening the Senate? That we roll over and die? [That] Will never happen!” Sotto told reporters in a message.

He said Ong “should correct his lawyer and tell him the truth.”

Blue Ribbon committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, who confirmed Ong’s request for an executive session, said that while he knows the lawyer was only doing his job for his client, the Senate, he said, is not a kangaroo court.

“Well, it takes one to know one na kangaroo. But we are not a kangaroo court,” he said in an online interview with Senate reporters.

Gordon also hit back at Ong’s lawyer.

“He uses everything to try and get a purchase on anything. Okay lang sa akin, Ferdie, hanapbuhay mo ‘yan, eh (That’s okay with me, it’s your job),” he said.

Gordon dared Topacio to “do [his] worst.”

“‘Yong mga talagang walang ibubuga, nanakot (Those who are incapable resort to threats)…Bahala ka, kung anong gawin mo (Do what you want). It’s a free country,” he told Topacio.

Lacson also tweeted: “Some lawyers remind us of an ambulance that suddenly appears from behind with siren blaring, as if chasing us, to announce its appearance with all its pomp and arrogance.”

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros said: “I hope Mr. Ong, as well as other ‘supporting characters’ in this sordid saga, realize that only the truth will protect them in the end.”

Gordon refuses to disclose Ong’s whereabouts due to security concerns but said the Pharmally official “is safe”.