MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday warned former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao of being cited in contempt if he fails to appear in the Senate's Blue Ribbon Committee hearing scheduled this week.
The Senate earlier found out that Lao was in charge of handling some P42 billion in funds that the Department of Health (DOH) transferred to the Department of Budget and Management's procurement service (PS-DBM) without proper documentation.
“I mo-move ko na i-cite siya for contempt or in contempt of the committee,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
(I would move to cite him for contempt or in contempt of the committee.)
Lacson, the presidential candidate of Partido Reporma, said Lao is not covered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to government officials in the executive branch not to appear in the Senate probe.
The senator added that he wanted to know why Pharmally was able to bag contracts way beyond 10 percent of its Net Financial Contracting Capacity (NFCC), which he said is a clear violation of anti-graft laws.
Senate records showed that the Pharmally only had P599,450 in net working capital in 2019. This means that the threshold or the maximum worth of contract Pharmally should get is only P5,994,500.
So far, the embattled firm got some P11.1 billion worth of contracts from 2020 to the first months of 2021.
This is why Lao is liable under the law for allowing it to happen, according to Lacson.
“Maliwanag na mayroong violation ito at sino ang mananagot kapag hindi nasunod ang panuntunan? Ang ibig sabihin noon mayroong anti-graft law na na-violate at kung mayroong conspiracy, pati iyong sibilyan na nagbi-bidding masasama sa kaso dapat," he said.
(It is clear that there is a violation, and who would be accountable if the law is not followed? This means that there is a violation in the anti-graft law and there is a conspiracy. Even the civilians involved should face charges.)
"Noong nakaraang pagdinig, noong tinake-up ko ito, hinahanap ko si Christopher Lao. Eh dalawang hearing na pala 'di sumisipot, hindi naman siya saklaw ng memorandum order ni Pangulong Duterte."
(I was looking for Christopher Lao when this was tackled in the Senate hearing. But he wasn't there even if he is not part of Duterte's memorandum order.)
SENATE HEARINGS 'OVER THE LIMIT'?
The Senate is also challenging Duterte’s gag order before the Supreme Court, with Lacson saying that the ruling on the Arroyo-era Executive Order (EO) No. 464 barring officials to appear before the chamber's inquiries on past anomalies only covered matters involving national security.
“Ito panibago ito at alam naman natin na kada may panibagong issue, kailangan idulog sa Korte Suprema para sila mag-interpret. So doon kami papunta ngayon… Hindi lang para sa sarili namin ito kundi para na rin mismo sa institusyon ng Senado na dapat ipagtanggol naming,” Lacson said.
Asked to react to Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s reported statement that the Senate’s hearings on Pharmally have gone “over the limit,” he said it is the call of the committee chair when to call hearings and what to discuss.
He also noted that privilege speeches are referred to the chair and it is the chair who manages the hearings.
“Generally iyon ang aming attitude. Ngayon kung mayroong senador na ayaw mag-participate, okay lang kasi dalawa lang naman ang kailangan para maka-establish ng quorum," the senator explained.
"In this case, kasi sinususpend lang so maski mag-isa ang chairman doon, call pa rin niya iyon na magpatuloy ang pagdinig,” he said.
Asked if he thinks that the Office the Ombudsman will treat fairly any graft charges that will filed, considering that former DBM-PS executive Warren Liong currently sits as deputy Ombudsman, Lacson said there is no choice since the law says that the Ombudsman has exclusive jurisdiction over anti-graft cases.
Liong, who was the former director of the PS-DBM, had said in a Senate hearing that he is ready to inhibit from the case should the matter be brought to his office.
The Senate's probe will resume on Thursday, Nov. 4, for the 14th day.
Some senators suspect Pharmally was favored by government because of its links with Michael Yang, a former presidential adviser. They also alleged that the items it sold to government were overpriced.
President Rodrigo Duterte denied there was overpricing and said the deals were above board.
-- With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News