By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter
A SENATOR who led the probe on the government’s purchase of allegedly overpriced pandemic supplies said he expects the Justice department, Office of the Ombudsman, or citizens to file criminal charges against those involved, including President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, said Mr. Duterte can be held accountable on the basis of betrayal of public trust after siding with allegedly anomalous individuals involved in the deals instead of supporting the Senate investigation.
“I am not biased, I have nothing against him personally,” the senator said in a media conference.
He said appropriate cases should be filed in court and allow the country’s legal system to determine accountability. “The court should be the one to say who is guilty and who should be the one behind bars.”
The committee’s 113-page draft report also recommended charges against Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, Department of Budget and Management Procurement Director Warren Rex Liong, ex-Budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, former Duterte economic adviser Michael Yang, and Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. officers, among others.
Mr. Duque, in a statement on Wednesday, maintained that the Health department was not involved in the procurement of pandemic-related supplies.
He said the Senate panel “turned a blind eye” to the “truth” that all procurements for the country’s COVID-19 response were handled by the Budget department’s procurement service.
“We at the Department of Health were not part of the activity as we were focused on the medical side of the pandemic response,” he said.
Mr .Duque said if the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) adopts the recommendations, the agency “will wait for the action of the appropriate Tribunal” and “fully cooperate” in the process.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Palace refused to comment on the report as it has yet to be adopted by the committee.
“It was a partial, unofficial finding,” Palace Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told ABS-CBN News Channel. “It’s something we cannot comment on because it is not yet official.”
Mr. Gordon, when asked if he would file the cases himself, said, “Why are you looking at me, haven’t I done enough? I’ve done my work, let others do their work.”
The senator said he is confident that there will be petitioners based on the number of calls received by his office to ask for updates on the probe.
If nobody pursues any legal action, he said it would “show the definition of our country.”
Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, Sr. expressed full support for the committee’s findings, saying he would sign the report without any reservation.
“All of that went through the investigations. The hearings did not only happen once,” he said. “This is the result of the investigation, so it should be respected.”
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters late Tuesday in a Viber message that the investigating committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives should first endorse their respective reports to his department and the Ombudsman for appropriate action.
“On the part of the DoJ (Department of Justice), it will make a preliminary evaluation to determine if there is a need to refer the reports to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for validation of the evidence,” he said.
“If in the affirmative, the NBI will be directed to conduct its investigation and build, if necessary, on the evidence already gathered by the Congress,” he added.
Mr. Yang’s legal counsel, Raymond Parsifal A. Fortun, had said the conclusions of the report “have no legal nor factual basis, done not in aid of legislation but solely for reelection.”
He said his client is looking forward to the report being forwarded to “an impartial investigation body” that would decide on actual evidence.
Lawyer Ferdinand S. Topacio, who represents some of the Pharmally officials, challenged the Senate committee “to write finis to the farce they have started” and let the justice system take its course.
“Before the courts, I am confident that the evidence will lead to the eventual acquittal of our clients from the charges recommended by the BRC, whose report is, to quote Shakespeare, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’,” he said. — with a report from Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza