NOW that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has announced it would issue an arrest warrant for contempt against a former plum adviser of President Duterte—who earlier said he would ask his Cabinet and allies/partners (in crime) to not show up or answer questions posed by the lawmakers even if they are cited for contempt, he would extract them from jail a few days later—Filipinos will now watch who will prevail in this power play.
Will it be President Duterte—whose concern is self-preservation by protecting his allies/supporters/partners—or will it be the senators (one of whose main duties under the Constitution is to preserve the separation of powers and be the watchdog against abuses by the administration and agencies under him)?
This is rather a big gamble for the President. I don’t know if he is prepared to face the consequence of either being exposed as a lame duck (until the end of his term), or as a dictator who will cling to his post even if he defies existing laws of the land (and those that make these laws), much like his family’s patron, who was ousted in EDSA and exiled in the United States.
The senators—even if the president would try to make them look selfish and grandstanding before the public’s eye—risk nothing but their political fortunes.
But the country would fall into the danger of a constitutional crisis. Will we be seeing another EDSA or a series of coups? I hope and pray not.
Michael Yang’s impending arrest
The Blue Ribbon Committee has announced it would issue soon the arrest warrant against Duterte’s former adviser (who was awarded plum positions until he fell out of graces) Michael Yang, whom they cited for contempt for failing to show up in the ongoing probe into anomalous pandemic deals.
Chaired by Senator Richard Gordon (whom Duterte has maligned many times over), the blue ribbon resumed its hearing Tuesday (September 7) and agreed to cite Yang in contempt after he ignored two subpoenas ordering him to attend the proceedings.
It was Senator Risa Hontiveros who formally moved to cite Yang in contempt.
As per rules of the chamber, only the leader of the Senate can sign a warrant of arrest for an individual cited in contempt by senators.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said "yes" when asked by Rappler if he would likely sign the arrest warrant for Yang.
This amplifies the senators' ongoing clash with Duterte himself, who has directed his wrath at the Senate for uncovering his links to Chinese businessmen who cornered billions worth of pandemic contracts riddled with anomalies.
A Rappler investigation showed that Yang, through a network of companies, has links to the Philippines' biggest supplier of pandemic contracts, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.
Pharmally was awarded over P8 billion worth of COVID-19 contracts even if the small firm lacked the track record and credibility to engage in big ticket government procurement.
Pharmally's chairman and president Huang Tzu Yen finally faced the Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday. The panel tried to issue a subpoena against Huang too, but the addresses in the firm's documents were allegedly non-existent.
With Yang ignoring two subpoenas issued by the committee, senators decided it was time to compel him to attend.
"Talagang mukhang hindi talaga susunod. Having said that, I would like to say that the motion for contempt has been set and the chair has no objection to it. And the next step is to submit it to the Senate President so that he could sign the...this time, no longer an invitation but a warrant of arrest to come over and present himself to the blue ribbon committee to the next hearing," said Gordon.
The committee attempted to serve its subpoenas against Yang twice, according to Rodolfo Quimbo, director-general of the panel's oversight office management.
Quimbo said that on September 2, the panel first tried to serve the subpoena at Yang's office address in Taguig City for the Philippine Full Win Group of Companies Inc, where Yang sits as chairman.
Quimbo said the subpoena server was told by a security guard to call a number, which was then picked up by a certain "Mr. John." Mr. John claimed Yang "is no longer connected" with Full Win.
But a driver who answered the door claimed no Michael Yang lived in the property. The subpoena server still left the document with the driver.
The blue ribbon committee will also issue arrest warrants against these other Pharmally officials and employees: Mohit Dargani; Twinkle Dargani; Linconn Ong; Krizle Grace Mago; and Justine Garado. They were also cited in contempt after ignoring subpoenas that ordered them to attend the Senate proceedings.
Yang as pagador
Duterte has repeatedly tried to exonerate Yang from any wrongdoing in relation to Pharmally. He described his former adviser as the "paymaster" or "financial sponsor" of Chinese businessmen who want to do business in the Philippines.
Malacañang also denied Pharmally was able to bag the pandemic contracts because of Yang's influence and closeness to Duterte.
Malacañang and COVID-19 plan chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. denied that ex-Duterte adviser Michael Yang's influence led to billions worth of contracts with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, a medical supply company he has links to.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque insisted that the government only gave the deals to Pharmally because it had offered them at good prices and promised to deliver within a certain timeframe.
However, Roque could not explain why Yang was described by President Rodrigo Duterte himself as pagador – a Bisaya word which means "paymaster" or "financial sponsor" – of Chinese businessmen seeking business opportunities in the Philippines.
"Wala pong kinalaman ang mga personalidad. Ang tiningnan, presyo at tsaka 'yung kalidad," said Roque on Wednesday, September 1, during a press briefing.
"The price is what matters, whoever you are. Unfortunately, no other company can give at that price, P1,700 [for personal protective equipment]," continued Roque.
Rappler however said there were several other
suppliers that provided personal protective equipment at that price point. In fact, a look at government contracts and purchase orders show Pharmally's PPE sets cost higher – P1,910 per set.
This price is based on their May 6, 2020 contract worth P3.8 billion, the biggest PPE contract awarded by the government.
Pharmally also supplied the biggest single amount of PPE sets – 2 million. Other contracts were for only hundreds of thousands of PPE sets. Despite being a small firm with no track record as a government supplier, it was able to deliver, said Roque.
Panelo speaks on Yang’s role
Galvez, meanwhile, narrated the series of events that led to the government going with Pharmally Pharmaceutical.
In those early months of the pandemic, the President ordered the government to buy PPE in two to three days, a directive that shocked the officials of the budget department's Procurement Service headed by Lloyd Christopher Lao.
Their cluster, the Task Group Resource Management Cluster under the COVID-19 National Task Force, asked the Chinese embassy for help.
This plea led to PPE sets which were then picked up from China using two C-130 planes and even a Philippine Navy ship. The ship was necessary to bring the two million PPE sets from Pharmally as the planes could carry only up to 20,000 sets each.
"We dictated how to procure and how to get PPEs that time. Our objective was to save lives, not to make money. That's very callous, that accusation," said Galvez.
Duterte himself described Yang as "paymaster" of Chinese businessmen who got pandemic-time contracts from the national government in a speech last Monday, August 30.