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Gordon urges Senate independence, swipes at colleagues not signing Pharmally report

Senate Blue Ribbon Chairman Richard Gordon on Tuesday took a swipe at  fellow senators who refused to take a stand by not signing the draft report he released, which was based on the panel's investigation into the questionable government purchases of COVID-19 supplies and its allegedly anomalous transactions with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

In the last week of the Senate's session, Gordon availed of the privilege hour to also urge the members of the chamber to uphold the independence of the Senate and resist outside influence, particularly of the Executive Branch, as the report on the Pharmally investigation might not be deliberated on the plenary due to the insufficient number of signatures that it needs for its sponsorship.

According to the Senate Blue Ribbon chairman, they have circulated the report and have been "following up with senators for their signatures signifying their votes." The latest was through a letter dated 20 May 2022.

"I look forward to clarity on the respective positive or negative responses of our Senators. I even look at the possibility that they may say that they will dissent, or they will amend, or they will interpellate which has been the practice. Senators are representatives of the people and who possess a national constituency," Gordon said in his privilege speech.

"We require our fellow senators' vote, so we can bring Pharmally to the plenary. If you are voting for or against our report, let us make it clear in the record," he added.

The lawmaker pointed out that the Senate panel was given powers to expose malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance.

"Kailangan magkaroon tayo ng closure diyan [We need closure]...The Senate’s full disclosure on the Pharmally plunder controversy achieves closure for our people," he said.

"I am doing this as a Chairman in a quandary. I respect my fellow members... I respect the Filipino people but we cannot shirk from our responsibilities or our duty to act on a committee report by not signing it, either in agreement or disagreement and by doing so we bring it to the plenary where it can be debated. Puwedeng pagdebatihan yan at diyan natin maririnig kung ano ang mga naging posisyon natin [We can debate it and there we can hear our positions on the matter]," he added.

Gordon went on, saying the people of this country "should not be denied a judgment or at the very least, a debate on whether there was malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance."

"Otherwise, why create a committee if we cannot decide, if we cannot even show how we voted, Mr. President?" he asked.

For Gordon, the Blue Ribbon panel had found acts, omissions, and evidence tantamount to violations of law, of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and "clear malevolent acts of favoritism leading to prejudice" against the Filipino people during an international pandemic.

"Dastardly acts in Pharmally were done with impunity. One of the questions now, therefore, is what must be done with PS-DBM Usec. Lao, Mr. Liong who is now Deputy Ombudsman, and Michael Yang and the others who are part and parcel of this investigation? We recommend prosecution against them based on the unearthed facts and laws. That has been done in the committee report," Gordon said.

Assertion of independence

The outgoing senator also emphasized that the report is an "assertion of the Senate's independence."

"It is an act of the Senate that declares: 'No more impunity!'...We must exact accountability, particularly from our public servants. That's why this report has to be signed, Mr. President," he said.

"We must ensure that none of those responsible go scot-free. Our collective voices through this Report can be loud enough to rouse the Ombudsman from apparent slumber or in the Department of Justice," he added.

At the latter part of the speech, the Senate blue ribbon chairman thanked Senators Panfilo Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Leila de Lima, Aquilino Pimentel III, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and ex-officio members, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, for signing the draft report albeit some of them have expressed intent to interpellate or amend some recommendations.

Other members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee are Senators Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Manuel Lapid, Pia Cayetano, Bong Go, Bong Revilla, and Francis Tolentino. Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri is also an ex-officio member of the panel.

Marcos has refused to sign the report

Before ending his speech, Gordon also mentioned the attempts of President Rodrigo Duterte to "entirely discredit the investigation and the investigators," saying the Executive "desperately sought to prevent" the truth from coming out.

He cited several instances where Duterte lambasted the Commission on Audit as well as the Senate panel for continuing the investigation into the alleged misused pandemic funds.

"This undue interference cannot be allowed to continue, especially in the future. We have a new administration coming over and a new Senate. The authority, powers, and prerogatives of the Senate are constitutionally granted. The Blue Ribbon Committee is invested with power and duty to investigate cases of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance committed by public officers. This has been the very basis of our authority for calling the motu proprio investigations on Pharmally. It is our sacred duty to defend the truth, to ferret out the truth and to defend the Senate as a co-equal branch of government," Gordon raised.

"Those things said, I urge you—all of you—to continue to ensure that the Senate remains independent, to remain resistant and free from undue constraints imposed by the Executive, and to remain the bastion of the rule of law," he ended.

In February, Senate Blue Ribbon Chairman Richard Gordon released a partial report of the investigation into the transfer of P42 billion in COVID-19 funds from the Department of Health to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

The investigation focused mainly on PS-DBM’s purchase of P8.6 billion worth of face masks, face shields, and PPEs from Pharmally, a firm that only had P625,000 in paid-up capital when it entered into government transactions.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman's report previously recommended the filing of criminal charges against Pharmally officials Linconn Ong and Mohit Dargani, and several government officials and individuals in connection with the alleged anomalous purchases of COVID-19 supplies.

The report also claimed that Duterte betrayed the public trust in connection with his actions related to the government's multi-billion-peso contracts with Pharmally.

As the Congress is set to adjourn on June 3, the draft report on the Pharmally probe might no longer be tackled in the Senate plenary.

In an interview on Monday, Drilon said the Senate Blue Ribbon investigation in the 18th Congress was not a waste of time as the testimonies and other evidence from the committee probe can still be used should the next batch of senators decide to pursue the investigation. — BM, GMA News