SC voids Senate's contempt order vs. Pharmally execs

By Benjamin Pulta

November 13, 2023, 12:00 pm

<p><em>(File photo)</em></p>

(File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) nullified the contempt and arrest order issued by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee against two individuals during a legislative inquiry on alleged irregularities in the procurement of emergency supplies during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

In its 53-page ruling dated March 23 and uploaded on Monday, the high court granted the petitions filed by Pharmally Corp. director Lincoln Ong and former presidential adviser Michael Yang questioning the Senate’s contempt orders against them.

“The order dated September 10,2021, citing petitioners Lincoln Uy Ong and Michael Yang Hong Ming in contempt of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and directing their arrest, is nullified for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion,” the tribunal said.

The court, however, ruled that the phrase “testifies falsely or evasively” under the Senate's rules of procedure is “not unconstitutional”.

“Considering the broad definition of giving false or evasive testimony, the witness must, at the very least, given a chance to explain why his or her testimony is not false or evasive,” the court added.

It added that “it bears underscoring that the purpose of the (Senate) committee’s proceedings is to conduct an inquiry or investigation to aid the Senate in crafting relevant legislation, and not to conduct a trial or make an adjudication.”

“Legislative inquiries do not share the same goals as the criminal trial process, and cannot be punitive in the sense that they cannot result in legally binding deprivation of a person’s life, liberty or property,” it added.

Punishment for legislative contempt, the tribunal said, must “similarly observe the minimum of due process”.

Ong and Yang are among the private individuals implicated in alleged irregularities in the 2020 contracts for more than PHP4 billion worth of RT-PCR Covid-19 test kits. (PNA)