Pharmally's Linconn Ong seeks SC's help vs Senate's contempt order

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2021 05:50 PM

Ong wants SC to void Senate rules penalizing testifying falsely, evasively

Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. Director Linconn Ong attends the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on October 5, 2021, on the alleged anomalies in the purchase of face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment. Voltaire F. Domingo, Senate PRIB/file
Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. Director Linconn Ong attends the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on October 5, 2021, on the alleged anomalies in the purchase of face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment. Voltaire F. Domingo, Senate PRIB/file

MANILA — Claiming his rights were violated, detained Pharmally executive Linconn Ong has sought the help of the Supreme Court to void a Senate contempt order that led to his detention over his refusal to cooperate in the probe on the allegedly overpriced and anomalous pandemic deals.

In a 50-page petition, Ong, through his lawyers, asked the high court on Thursday to nullify the September 10, 2021 contempt order issued by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which supposedly punished him for giving false or evasive answers.

“Congress has absolutely no business in the determination of such guilt or innocence much less the imposition of punishment. To allow Congress to punish persons for such crime is to allow not only a grave violation of the right to due process, but at the same time, an encroachment of the power and jurisdiction of the courts to hear, decide and punish criminal actions,” Ong’s petition said.

He also asked the Supreme Court to issue a status quo ante order — an order which restores the situation prior to the issuance of a contested order — and questioned the constitutionality of two Senate rules which were the bases of the contempt order.


Ong showed up during the Sept. 10 Senate hearing where he was quizzed by Senator Panfilo Lacson as to former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang’s involvement in the billions of pesos worth of contracts entered into by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation with the government for medical supplies. 

This despite Pharmally not having enough funds to supply the contracts.

Ong initially said Yang’s role was only to introduce him to Chinese suppliers but upon Lacson’s questioning, Ong admitted Yang also acted as guarantor. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also pointed out that Ong first claimed the funds used to purchase the medical supplies were corporate funds of Pharmally but its audited financial statements showed it only had a paid-up capital of only P625,000 with no capacity to pay the initial order worth P54 million.

Ong would later say, upon grilling by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Richard Gordon, that their initial suppliers agreed to loan them the medical supplies and get paid only after Pharmally collects the payment from the Philippine government.

The changing answers did not sit well with the senators.

They cited him, along with Yang, in contempt and ordered his arrest.

Since Ong reportedly contracted COVID-19, he was placed under Senate custody while still in his condominium at the Bonifacio Global City until September 21 when he was brought to the Senate premises after having been cleared of the coronavirus.

But after initially cooperating with the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and asking for an executive session, Ong hired a new lawyer —Ferdinand Topacio — who advised him not to speak nor cooperate further.

The Senate then changed his status to detainee on September 28, depriving him of the privilege to use his mobile phone.


In his petition for certiorari, Ong said the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has no constitutional basis to issue a contempt order for testifying “falsely or evasively” in a Senate probe, saying the Senate rules on inquiries in aid of legislation and the Blue Ribbon Committee rules are “vague.”

“[O]ne would not know what statements a witness may give that may be adjudged by the Committee as false or evasive,” he said, arguing that the contempt order of the Senate was criminal in nature and should indicate clear standards as to what constitutes “testifying falsely or evasively.”

It was not clear, too, the petition added, how Ong could have complied with a “practically unrealizable or impossible” remedy to spare himself form punishment — “to produce the required documents, or to be sworn or to testify or otherwise purge himself of the contempt.”

“In effect, Petitioner was found guilty for an offense of which he was not informed about, and without a chance to defend himself,” the petition said.

“Directly or indirectly, other rights of the accused, other than the right to liberty, such as liberty of abode and changing of the same, the right to bail, and the right to an appeal to an impartial tribunal are being impaired,” it added.

Ong, reminded the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that the Constitution itself and the Supreme Court, in the case involving former National Economic and Development Authority secretary Romulo Neri, that “the rights of persons appearing in or affected by legislative inquiries should be respected.”

Ong also questioned why the Senate panel took on the judicial function of determining the guilt of a resource person for supposedly giving false testimony.

“The Senate or its Committee, and even the entire Congress for that matter, however, may not pass judgment on the guilt of a person and punish him, especially with deprivation of liberty, for false testimony as there is no authority whatsoever that allows them to do so, save only for the Rules that are herein precisely assailed. With more reason that they cannot do so upon mere motions and orders, whatever be the basis,” read his petition.

Ong further claimed, citing the opinion of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, that while the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is authorized to detain witnesses found guilty of contempt, it had no authority to order their arrest.

Lacson had publicly said Ong could risk spending Christmas and New Year under Senate custody if he continues to refuse to cooperate but Gordon also said Ong’s testimony is no longer needed since “everything is already there.”

“Therefore, Petitioner’s continued detention serves no more purpose whatsoever, except for punishing him for the alleged “false” and “evasive” testimony,” the petition said.


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“If the Committee is convinced that Petitioner is guilty of false testimony, there is nothing that will prevent them from filing the appropriate cases against him before the prosecutors and the courts,” it stated.

The Senate’s Pharmally probe has created tension between the Senate and Malacanang with President Rodrigo Duterte denouncing the probe multiple times and barring employees and officials from the Executive from attending more Senate hearings.

A House panel has also criticized the Senate probe and took the extraordinary step of taking custody of another Pharmally executive, Krizle Mago, who admitted during a Senate hearing that the company ordered its personnel to replace the expiry dates of face shields and that the company, in effect, “swindled” the government.

She retracted her testimony as soon as she was under House protection.