MANILA - From a resource person under Senate’s “protective custody,” to a chamber’s “detainee.”
This is now the status of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executive Linconn Ong after foregoing his chance to speak before a Senate executive session regarding his company’s alleged anomalous transactions with the government.
Ong forwarded on Monday a handwritten note to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee regarding his refusal to talk in an executive session after he was advised by his legal counsel, Ferdinand Topacio.
The Senate panel is in the thick of investigating the procurement supposedly of overpriced face mask, face shield, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies from Pharmally by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) starting last year.
Senators who were supposed to meet Ong on Monday in an executive session were expecting to hear more details from him.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Rene Samonte, in a text message to ABS-CBN News, confirmed Ong’s classification to a “detainee” status, having been cited in contempt by the committee for supposedly giving flip-flopping answers.
As a detainee, Samonte said, Ong’s privilege of using a mobile phone has been stripped.
“OSAA (Office of the Sergeant-At-Arms), upon orders from BRC, has removed Ong's privilege of using his mobile phone or any gadget after he declared that he will no longer cooperate and will not attend any executive session with the senators,” Samonte said.
“For the past days, he has enjoyed the status of a person under protective custody of the senate but since yesterday, he has been categorized as a person under detention or a "detainee," he added.
Topacio initially disclosed that the Senate has “confiscated” his client’s mobile phone.
But such term according to a Blue Ribbon Committee official is "harsh.”
“Carrying of a cellphone is a privilege, if one is detained. If the use is withdrawn, it is not a confiscation but a limitation of privilege,” a committee officer said.
Despite his detention, Ong can still call his family anytime that he would request, just like what he did on Monday night, according to Samonte.
The OSAA also issued a screen grab of CCTV footage showing Ong walking around his detention area before 8 a.m. Tuesday, escorted by a security personnel.
Topacio forwarded to ABS-CBN News Ong’s supposed “Open Letter To the Senators” that his client wrote on Monday afternoon, or before his phone was removed from him.
The open letter was sent to "me and some close friends hoping it would reach the senators," according to the lawyer.
A portion of Ong’s supposed message included his apologies to lawmakers for being “evasive” when answering their queries.
“I would like to apologize if I seemed in any way evasive. If I am just being honest, as an DC introvert, I am still very much in shock as this situation is overwhelming po talaga. Tahimik na negosyante lang po ako. Nakikipag-cooperate naman po kami as long as consistent with the truth,” a portion of the letter read.
(This has been overwhelming. I am just doing business quietly. We cooperate as long as it is consistent with the truth.)
“Since the hearings began, I’ve received death threats which put not only me, but my family in danger too. Ituro ko daw ang Presidente. My wife suffered through an ectopic pregnancy, recently sa stress, so I’m really asking for your patience po sa akin,” it added.
(The messages told me to point things to the President.)
Ong supposedly reiterated then his earlier pronouncements that they loaned the goods and that there was nothing irregular in their transactions with the government.
“Naiintindihan ko po ang pwedeng mangyari if I lie under oath at hindi ko po gusto ilagay ang sarili ko sa ganung sitwasyon. Andito po ako ngayon sa detention at dadalhin nyo sa kulungan dahil lang po may mga bagay na hindi ko po talaga kayang sagutin at kaya nagpa-panic po ako sainyo at natatakot," his supposed letter read.
(I know what can happen if I lie under oath, and I don't want to put myself in that situation. I am here in detention and will be transferred to a jail because there are some things I could not answer. I am in a state of panic and I am scared.)
"Some tell me I’m being used for politics but I still trust that the blue ribbon committee forms decisions na fair po sa lahat (that is fair to everyone)."
Sought for his reaction on Ong's supposed message, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, “Silly! Ngayon lang ako nakarinig ng (it is the first time I heard of) death threat if one does not lie. It’s always the other way around. Death threat if you tell the truth. Stupid scriptwriter.”
Both Sotto and Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said they had not received such message from Ong.
Other senators and Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon have yet to respond to ABS-CBN New's request for comment.
Senators alleged that Pharmally offered overpriced supplies and suspect that it was favored by government because of its ties with businessman Michael Yang, President Rodrigo Duterte's former economic adviser.
The Duterte administration maintained that the deals were above board.