MANILA (UPDATED)— The lawyer of a Pharmally Pharmaceutical executive and an advocacy group on Wednesday accused Sen. Risa Hontiveros of "bribing" a witness to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation into the government's allegedly anomalous pandemic deals.
Ferdinand Topacio, lawyer for Pharmally executive Linconn Ong, showed a video of a warehouseman narrating how his co-worker was supposedly bribed by Hontiveros' Senate staff to stand as a witness in the ongoing investigation.
Ong is currently under Senate custody after the committee ordered his arrest over evasive responses.
"Sa pagkakaalam ko po, kaya po lumabas si V-Jay (Senate witness) ay nabayaran po siya para siraan si Ms. Mago at Pharmally," said the warehouseman whose face was blurred in Topacio's video.
At the hearing last week, Hontiveros presented an alleged employee of Pharmally's warehouse. The witness claimed the embattled company asked them to tamper with medical equipment bought by the government.
Pharmally executive Krizle Grace Mago later admitted to the tampering and agreed to the senators' remark that they were "swindling" the government.
Topacio said he obtained the video testimony from Pharmally, adding he is in possession of the sworn affidavit of the warehouseman.
Topacio and Citizen’s Crime Watch president Diego Magpantay said they are mulling to file a case against the senator and her two staffers.
"In the next few days we will try to develop a case and bring it before the proper government agency. Since Sen. Hontiveros is a public official baka sa Ombudsman or kung ang jurisdiction ay sa Department of Justice we will bring it there for proper disposition,” said Topacio.
HONTIVEROS HITS BACK
In a statement, Hontiveros denied bribing a witness to appear in the Senate hearing.
"First, it was the witness who reached out to us. We have an e-mail thread to prove this. Like always, may resibo ako," she said.
The senator also said the witness' claims were validated before they was presented in the Blue Ribbon hearing.
"We vetted the information of the witness for weeks and obtained independent corroboration of his points."
Hontiveros added her witness' claims have been proven true by no less then Mago herself when she admitted swindling the government.
The senator said she is not afraid of Topacio's allegations.
Senate Sargeant-at-Arms Rene Samonte, meanwhile, said Ong is being treated well while under the chamber's custody.
"I want to assure you that Ong's basic rights are not curtailed. The use of his cellphone (and other gadgets) was a privilege accorded him by BRC (Blue Ribbon Committee), which has been cut by same," he said in a statement.
Ong, he said, is "allowed to go out, have a walk, exercise and get sunlight," and may be visited by family, lawyers, medical personnel and religious leaders.
He was also allowed to contact his wife through the Senate office phone.
PROBE TO CONTINUE
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Topacio's comments should not be dignified.
The focus on the matter, he said, should not be muddled by outsiders’ comments, but must instead remain on the issue about the supposedly overpriced face masks, face shields and the near expiry of P500 million worth of test kits procured by the government from Pharmally.
Any concerns on how the resource persons are being treated or questioned could be raised during the hearing, Pangilinan noted.
“Pwede silang sumulat, pwede silang mag-appeal. Wala namang problema yun,” according to the lawmaker.
“Hindi issue ang Senate dito eh. Ang issue dito yung bilyun-bilyon na nalustay. So dapat dun tayo. Yun ang dapat na tinututukan natin," he said.
"Sinasabi nila na dapat itigil na. Alam mo, kung itinigil natin three weeks ago, itong mga detalye ng overpricing, expired na kalahating bilyong testing kits na nag-expire habang naka-store, hindi lalabas lahat yan."
He added that the possibility of Ong and Mago’s absence in the succeeding hearings would not be enough to halt the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s investigation.
“Hindi naman naka-angkla lang sa dalawang testigo yung kaso. We have documents and testimonial evidence of other witnesses,” he explained.
Pharmally's deal with government is under scrutiny for alleged overpricing and delivery of substandard pandemic supplies to government.
—Report from Zandro Ochona and Sherrie Ann Torrespro, ABS-CBN News