Senator Richard Gordon on Wednesday, Oct. 20 dared the executives and the legal counsel of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation to challenge the Senate blue ribbon committee’s partial report before the Supreme Court.
Gordon had earlier disclosed the partial findings of the blue ribbon panel which includes the recommendation of possible charges against ex-presidential economic adviser Michael Yang, former officials of the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (DBM-PS) and executives of Pharmally.
Based on its initial findings, the Senate blue ribbon panel recommended the filing of perjury against Pharmally’s Linconn Ong, and Krizle Grace Mago and estafa charges against Mohit Dargani.
The panel also recommended that deportation case against Yang, whom President Duterte has repeatedly defended against Senate probers.
But the legal counsel of Ong, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, questioned the “piecemeal release” of the committee report.
To this, Gordon said: “Let him prove his case in the Supreme Court.” Gordon also questioned Topacio’s remark that the Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms (OSAA) has no authority to arrest Pharmally executives Mohit and Twinkle Dargani because they are outside of the Senate premises."
The siblings were cited for contempt by the Senate for refusing to comply and submit the subpoenaed documents and were ordered detained within the premises of the Upper Chamber.
“That statement is absurd. (For) example: a person had been sent a subpoena to either appear in person or to produce documents necessary for an investigation, in aid of legislation. And then that person does not appear or does not submit documents. Does the Senate wait for that person to enter the senate premises in order for that person to be cited for contempt and thus detained?” Gordon pointed out.
“All that person will need to do is just not enter Senate premises so he or she won’t be held accountable for his or her recalcitrance. This will lead to a really stupid situation where a co-equal branch is rendered inutile because it’s supposed jurisdiction is restricted to where it’s building is situated,” Gordon further said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Gordon’s statement saying the power of the Senate to arrest by declaring a person in contempt is clear and has been upheld by the SC in several cases, particularly in the 2007 case of Standard Chartered Bank v. Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies.
“The Court clearly stated there that ‘Congress or any of its bodies has the power to punish recalcitrant witnesses’ and that ‘the exercise of the power to punish contempt is based on the principle of self-preservation. As the branch of government vested with legislative power, ibdepently of the judicial branch, it can assert its authority an punish contumacious acts against it’,” Sotto said.
Furthermore, the Senate leader said that in the exercise of its valid power to arrest witnesses, the Senate, by practice, has always asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) for assistance “which has always been extended willingly by them.” “I cannot see any reason why this cooperation between the Senate OSAA and PNP will change. The men and women of the PNP are professionals who know the law and who perform their duties competently and objectively,” he said.
“In fact, this was what happened last night when our OSAA went to serve the arrest order on the Dargani siblings. The BGC Police Community Precinct and Eastern Police District headquarters both assisted the OSAA in serving the arrest orders on the Pharmally officers/Dargani siblings,” he said.
“Our OSAA went again today to the said address and will continue to look for the Mojit Dargani and Twinkle Dargani until the arrest order is served. And we thank the PNP and its leadership for performing their duties and for upholding the law,” Sotto said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also agreed and said the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has the right to cite for contempt the Darganis who have been evasive in the Senate hearings.
“In law, flight is evidence of guilt. BTW, yesterday the US Congressional Committee recommended citing Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena, the same basis of the Blue Ribbon for citing in contempt Twinkle and Mohit Dargani,” Drilon said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson lamented that the siblings could have been easily arrested by the OSAA had the hearings been conducted physically at the Senate premises.
Most Senate committees are held virtually or online since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.
“In hindsight, before a motion to cite a resource person for contempt and a subsequent arrest & detain order is issued, a team of OSAA shld already be deployed to effect the arrest of the said individuals,” Lacson pointed out.
“That said, we lost the element of surprise & even telegraphed our move to the person/s concerned. This is one of the limitations of a virtual hearing,” the lawmaker lamented.