Guevarra defends Duterte memo on Senate probe

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2021 05:48 PM

MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s memorandum barring Executive officials and employees from attending Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on the contracts entered into by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation with the government.

This, even as he agreed to seek a review of the memorandum.

“To me, Mr. Chair, the objective or the essence of the memo is not to defy your authority or prerogative but to protest the manner in which the congressional or Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings are being conducted during the past few weeks,” Guevarra told the Senate finance committee which heard the DOJ’s 2022 proposed budget.

He said the order was only confined to a particular probe, that of the pandemic contracts entered into by Pharmally with the government for almost P12 billion worth of medical supplies. 

These contracts became controversial when it was reveal Pharmally did not have the financial capacity to supply the contracts and had to borrow or request former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang to act as guarantor. 

A former Pharmally staff also accused the company’s executives of changing the expiration dates of face shields and of selling substandard, dirty, yellowish and wet face shields.

Pharmally executive Krizle Mago confirmed this during a Senate hearing and admitted her company “swindled” the government but later retracted this statement when she sought protection from the House of Representatives.

But Guevarra refused to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the President’s memorandum, as a member of the Executive branch now caught in a “potential stalemate,” if not possible “constitutional crisis” as to whether the President can prohibit his personnel from attending the Senate probe. 

Duterte on Monday night complained that Cabinet members waste their time attending the Senate probe. 

Various groups, including the Philippine Bar Association, said the memorandum violates the separation of powers under the Constitution and upsets the system of checks and balances in government.

Instead of weighing in on the issue, the justice chief said it’s “a matter of entering into some mutually acceptable arrangements as to the manner and timing of the attendance of officials from the Executive department.”

He did however explain the perspective from the Executive.

“From the point of view of the Executive, with nearly two months of hearing being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, by now, it would be quite clear already, what aspects of legislation could be done. Is there any particular law that needs to be amended? A new law to be enacted? Or maybe some legal provisions that need to be repealed,” he said. 

“So the point of view is, that should be evident enough but the perspective is the inquiry is quite stepping beyond the original purpose and probably dealing with things like criminal investigation that may properly be handled by the Executive Department itself through the Department of Justice or through the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon assured Guevarra the Senate minority is not out to create a crisis.

“We will avail of the remedies available under the law, under the Constitution in order that we can put these things in order. But certainly, it is our hope, that given the very rational and reasonable head of the Department of Justice, this can be reviewed and and he can have his opinions inserted into this memorandum circular,” he said.

Guevarra agreed to talk to the Executive Secretary but upon the condition that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will also make some “adjustments.”

The DOJ chief however clarified he was not consulted about the drafting and release of the memorandum.

“I did not have any direct participation whatsoever in the preparation or drafting of the memo, the subject memo but I would like to say also to be completely honest about it, this was mentioned casually in a telephone conversation between myself and Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs. That was not the subject of our conversation but it was mentioned casually to me that the OES was drafting a memo upon the instruction of the President and he said that if I had any idea or contribution for the memo, then he will gladly accept any ideas form me,” he said.

“I just told him that this memo should just revolve around the issue of legislative inquiry in aid of legislation. That’s all that I mentioned about the subject matter. Other than that, I have no direct involvement in the crafting of memo,” he explained.

The DOJ has so far not moved to order a probe into the Pharmally deal, saying it will wait for an interested person to file the appropriate complaint.