Senate panel to issue arrest warrant vs former PS-DBM chief ducking hearings

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Senate panel to issue arrest warrant vs former PS-DBM chief ducking hearings
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon interpellates former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao at a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on September 10, 2021.
Screen grab / Senate of the Philippines YouTube page

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday ordered the arrest and detention of former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao who has been skipping the panel's hearings on the government's deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. 

Lao was the officer-in-charge of the Department of Budget and Management's procurement service when a bulk of the anomalous contracts were awarded to Pharmally. 

He stopped attending the hearings around the same time a memorandum was issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea barring officials from attending hearings related to the Blue Ribbon probe.

The directive came from President Rodrigo Duterte who has become increasingly frustrated with the inquiry and has defended his appointees, including Lao, who are embroiled in the controversy. 

But senators, who have vowed to question the memo in the Supreme Court, noted that Lao is no longer a public official and is therefore not covered by the order. 

"Lao is a private citizen now and I will entertain a motion to cite him in contempt," Blue Ribbon chairman Richard Gordon said. Sen. Francis Pangilinan soon after motioned to cite Lao in contempt which was seconded by Sen. Risa Hontiveros. 

The order also covers a warrant for his arrest and detention, Rodolfo Quimbo, director-general of Blue Ribbon Oversight Office Management, told Philstar.com. 

Lao used to work as an election lawyer on Duterte's presidential campaign. The president has said that it was "utang na loob" or indebtedness that led him to appoint Lao to government posts. 

The Senate Blue Ribbon in October said it would recommend in its committee report that graft and fraud charges be filed against Lao over his role in the government's deals with Pharmally. 

The controversial firm is the PS-DBM's most favored supplier by far, cornering deals worth P10.4 billion as of September this year, edging out local and more established suppliers despite its recent incorporation in 2019 with a paid-up capital of just P625,000. 

Two Pharmally executives, siblings Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, have also been ducking the hearings and evading warrants for their arrest issued by the panel two weeks ago. 

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