Tolentino urged to ask Duterte to revoke memo barring Cabinet from Pharmally hearings

Published October 5, 2021, 3:55 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senators on Tuesday, Oct. 5 sought the revocation of the memorandum issued by President Duterte that bars Cabinet officials from attending the Senate probe on the government’s procurement of alleged overpriced COVID-19 pandemic supplies from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

At the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon urged Sen. Francis Tolentino to ask the President to revoke the memorandum he issued that prohibits government officials from appearing in the hearing led by Sen. Richard Gordon.

“Being an ally of the President, may we ask the good senator to ask the President to revoke the circular which barred government officials from hearing in our committee hearing?” Drilon said during the 11th hearing of the Senate panel.

“The government officials you are looking for right now, are not here, because they were barred,” the minority leader pointed out.

Prior to this, Tolentino a known ally of the President, had been looking for a resource person from the government, particularly the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to clarify the functions of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB).

Tolentino noted that the GPPB has been crafting implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) “almost yearly” and its officials should be made to explain the issue on “common use equipment” that the committee is tackling with regards to the COVID-19 supplies being procured by the government.

But Gordon, Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, pointed out Tolentino that the very persons he is seeking to answer his queries are barred from attending the hearing due to the President’s memorandum he released last October 4.

“And in view of Article 2, section 15 of the 1987 Constitution , for the protection of the state and the right to health of the people, the President has directed all officials and employees of the executive department to no longer appear before or attend the abovementioned Senate blue ribbon committee hearings. Effective immediately,” Lacson said as he read a portion of the memorandum to Tolentino.

“’Instead they shall focus all their time and effort on the implementation of measures toa ddress the current state of calamity on account of covid-19 and in carrying out their other functions.’ The memorandum only pertains to this particular Senate blue ribbon committee hearings, particularly this committee hearing,” Lacson pointed out.

Drilon agreed and further said that Duterte’s directive “has all the red flags of unconstitutionality.”

“It only covers this particular Senate blue ribbon committee hearing; it does not cover other blue ribbon hearings. But only this particular hearing…It has also not covered the House’s hearing (on this issue),” Drilon pointed out.

“I cannot see other memorandum as blatantly unconstitutional as what we have before us. Unfortunately, the one affected by this memorandum is Sen. Tolentino. He has all the questions on government officials who are banned from coming here to this hearing,” he pointed out.

Gordon, likewise, scored Duterte for prohibiting his officials from participating in the hearings, saying it only shows he is protecting a plunderer.

“Ayaw padaluhin sa Senate Blue Ribbon hearing sa Pharmally investigation, pero pwede umattend sa Mababang Kapulungan? Mukhang mayroong pinagtatakpang mandarambong (He wouldn’t allow them to attend the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on its investigation into Pharmally, but he allowed them to attend in the Lower House’s hearing? It seems he is shielding a plunderer),” Gordon pointed out.

“Wag niyo pong babastusin ang talino ng taumbayan, Mr. President. ‘Yan po ang ginagawa ninyo ngayon. Tama na. Sobra na. Pati konstitusyon binabaliktad na (Don’t underestimate the wisdom of the people, Mr. President. That’s what you are doing right now. Stop it. You are even controverting the Constitution),” the blue ribbon committee chief stressed.