Senators on Friday wondered how former Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lao was appointed to high-level posts when he was still in government and how he was given airtime by the state-owned PTV to explain himself when he was already in the private sector.
At the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the alleged overpricing of protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic, committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon raised the issue of Lao's ties to President Rodrigo Duterte and former Special Assistant to the President Senator Christopher Lawrence Go.
“You just happened to be there, right? It happened to be very convenient, right? You are associated with Senator Go, you are the campaign lawyer for the president,” Gordon told Lao.
Lao said he was appointed to head Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management because his predecessor did not pass the required educational attainment for the position.
Senator Panfilo Lacson also noticed the air time given to Lao at a Laging Handa Briefing a day after his name was mentioned in the Senate hearing, linking him to the issue of overpriced face shields and face masks.
“You were so lucky that you were able to barge into the Laging Handa Briefing all of the sudden,” Lacson said.
“You were not anymore connected with Malacanang or any government agency at the time... and yet you were accommodated by 'Laging Handa' briefing. How lucky could you get?” he added.
Lao explained that he was contacted by personnel in the DBM-PS as well as the private and state-controlled media to answer the issues raised during the Senate inquiry.
Given time to explain his side, Go denied anew that Lao worked directly with him.
“Sa muli, inuulit ko po for the nth time— hindi ko aide o hindi ko po tauhan si Atty. Lloyd Lao. Kailanman, hindi po siya directly reporting sa akin na tauhan talaga. Iba ‘yung aide na tauhan mo na nagre-report sa’yo. May sarili siyang trabaho. May sarili siyang buhay,” Go said.
“Kilala ko po siya, taga-Davao din po siya. Pero hindi ko po siya tauhan o aide. Pero kung may kasalanan siya, panagutin natin. Kung kailangan ikulong, ikulong natin. Kung kailangan i-contempt, i-contempt natin,” he added.
As regards Lao’s background, Drilon, at one point in the hearing, asked the former DBM official about an extortion case sought by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission against him.
The PACC memorandum dated August 16, 2019 read, “This is a confidential information about ongoing extortion racket being perpetuated by the HLURB victimizing private housing developers engaged in socialized and low-cost mass housing projects."
"This extortion process started last year when the CEO of HLURB Christopher Lloyd Lao issued memo Circular No. 9 on May 2, 2018, making the approval of the license to sell for housing projects extremely tedious and difficult to obtain,” it added.
According to Drilon, the license to sell was once issued by the regional offices but when the memorandum circular was implemented, the issuance became centralized.
Drilon said his information indicated that two major developers were asked to deposit in advance P300 million each.
Lao said he was not aware of any case regarding the extortion filed against him but he was knowledgeable of the memorandum circular mentioned by the PACC.
He said that the memorandum was not meant to centralize the issuance of license to sell but was intended to ensure developers’ compliance with the socialized housing requirement of the HLURB.
Lao’s denial was contradicted by Senator Risa Hontiveros, saying Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario even asked him to respond on the PACC findings.
Senators also questioned Lao’s appointment to the DBM-PS after the latter repeatedly claimed that he applied for the post.
“‘Wag mo kaming lokohin na nag-apply ka walang ganon na nangyayari sa undersecretary position. ‘Di naman ‘yan clerk na mag-aaply ka eh,” Drilon said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan told Lao that many senators had previously held Cabinet positions and knew how appointments were made.
“Marami dito sa Senado, naging Cabinet secretary. Gusto mong maniwala kami sa istorya mo na hindi kapani-paniwala dahil galing na kami dyan eh,” Pangilinan said.
Gordon asked Lao to confirm if he owned properties in Tagaytay and in Greenhills, San Juan.
Lao said the property in Tagaytay was owned by his father while the condominium in Greenhills was only leased.
He denied that he owned a Maserati luxury car adding that he only had Toyota Grandia.
Lacson asked if the Senate Blue Ribbon had invited a certain Michael Yang to answer queries related to the overpriced face masks and face shields procured by the DBM-PS.
He also wanted to confirm if he was the same Michael Yang who served as Duterte’s economic adviser.
Gordon then played a RTVM footage showing presidential adviser, Michael Yang, having a meeting with Duterte. The video also showed that Duterte was with Go.
Atty. Rodolfo Noel Quimbo, the director general of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, was not able to respond to Lacson’s query, but the guest list provided to the media indicated that the Michael Yang that Lacson was asking about is the same person who was affiliated with Duterte. —NB, GMA News