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Pharmally director runs to SC to challenge continuing detention at Senate

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Pharmally director runs to SC to challenge continuing detention at Senate
Retired Maj. Gen. Rene C. Samonte, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and security staff escort Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp. director Linconn Ong inside the Senate building where he will be detained until the Blue Ribbon Committee resumes its hearing on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.
Released / Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines — Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. director Linconn Ong ran to the Supreme Court to challenge his continuing detention after the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee cited him in contempt and ordered his arrest.

Ong, through his legal counsels, filed a Petition for Certiorari on Thursday, assailing the Senate's September 10 order and asked the SC to order his immediate release from detention.

He also asked the SC to issue a Status Quo Ante Order or Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction on the continued enforcement of the Senate order and on similar directives to be issued pending resolution of the case.

Ong’s lawyers also prayed that the SC declares as unconstitutional a section in the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation that punishes as contempt the act of testifying falsely or evasively.

The Pharmally executive is one of the resource persons in the ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry into government pandemic spending.

On September 21, The Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms took Ong into custody after Sen. Richard Gordon, panel chair, was frustrated at his evasive answers and failure to submit documents subpoenaed by the committee.

The senator said then: "If you persist on lying, there are [Senate security] officers there. Because you are lying to us all the time, we will have you brought...and detained at the Senate. That is not an idle threat.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III soon after noted that a prior arrest warrant against Ong still stands.

In 2018, Aegis Juris fratman Arvin Balag also ran to the SC to challenge his detention for contempt during its legislative inquiry on the fatal hazing of University of Santo Tomas law freshman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.

In resolving Balag’s petition, the SC said that the period of imprisonment under the Senate’s power of contempt should only last until the termination of the legislative inquiry under which the said power was invoked.

It also said that the Senate could exercise its power of contempt while there is a legitimate legislative inquiry.

"Conversely, once the said legislative inquiry concludes, the exercise of the inherent power of contempt ceases and there is no more genuine necessity to penalize the detained witness," the ruling read.

RELATED: SC: Senate's power of detention over persons cited in contempt 'not definite'

'No constitutional basis, rights of petitioner disregarded'

Ong argued that the committee’s issuace of the assailed Contempt Order from the Senate has no constitutional basis.

The petition noted that the contempt citation against Ong was upon the ground "for testifying falsely and evasively before the Committee on September 10, 2021."

"Here, 'testifies falsely or evasively,' the phrase that purports to describe a punishable act, is utterly vague as it does not fairly notify the witness of how it can be committed nor does it restrict in any manner the discretion of the Senate Committee to adjudge an act as falling within its ambit. This should not pass constitutional muster," the petition read.

The petitioner also said he was not informed about the offense he was found guilty of, and was also not given a chance to defend himself.

"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," he added.

Ong also said the Senate ruling on the falsity of his testimony and punishing him "illegally encroached upon the exclusive constitutional domain of the Judiciary."

His lawyers argued that the determination of falsity of a statement requires application of rules on evidence, which falls under Judicial power and is beyond powers of the Congress.

"The Senate or its Committees, 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," the petition read. — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio

BLUE RIBBON SENATE SUPREME COURT
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