House gives protection to Senate probe witness | Inquirer News

House gives protection to Senate probe witness

Hontiveros hopes Mago won't be 'too comfortable' in House custody

‘SAFELY INSIDE’ Krizle Grace Mago in a photo released on Friday by the House committee on good government and public accountability. (Photo from the House of Representatives)

A key witness in the Senate investigation of the P11.5 billion worth of contracts for allegedly overpriced pandemic supplies awarded to an undercapitalized company has sought refuge in the House of Representatives.

Diwa Rep. Michael Edgard Aglipay, chair of the House good government and public accountability committee, on Friday said Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executive Krizle Grace Mago was now in the panel’s “protective custody.”


“She is now safely inside the HOR (House of Representatives),” he said in a text message to reporters early Friday evening.

Aglipay’s committee is also conducting its own investigation of the Pharmally deals and has warned Mago that she would be arrested if she did not appear in the panel’s hearing on Monday.


Soiled face shields

Mago is the regulatory affairs head and one of the incorporators of Pharmally, which was established in 2019 with a paid-up capital of only P625,000 and zero income before it was awarded the contracts for face shields and masks, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits last year.

During last week’s Senate hearing, Mago confirmed a Pharmally warehouse worker’s testimony that she had ordered that certificate documents be changed to show that medical-grade face shields the company had sold to the DOH were produced in 2021 instead of 2020.She also confirmed the worker’s statement that their deliveries included face shields that were damaged or soiled.

The instructions to tamper with the protective gear, Mago said, came from company secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani, who denied her allegation.

Pictures from the office of the House sergeant-at-arms showed Mago in a room wearing denim jeans, a black longsleeve blouse and a black face mask. The room had a bed and a bathroom.

Senators’ offer

Mago had earlier been offered protective custody by Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros after her bombshell testimony. She said she would think about it.

But after the hearing Mago could no longer be reached by phone, said Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee leading the investigation.

She did not appear at the resumption of the Senate hearing on Thursday. Instead, she wrote Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on that day to request for protective custody.


“Presently, I cannot speak freely about the ongoing investigation on the alleged overprice of medical equipments (sic) without feeling threatened due to the undue influence and pressure being exerted from various sources,” she said in her letter. “I feel that my life and liberty is in grave danger because of my coming out and my desire to speak the truth.”

“The protective custody that I am requesting from the HOR would help me speak freely without unnecessary compulsion from anyone,” Mago said.

Aglipay directed the House sergeant-at-arms to “ensure her safety and protection 24/7” within the House premises for an “initial period of two months, or until the adoption of the committee report” on his panel’s inquiry.

He also informed Gordon that arrangements could be made for Mago to participate in any future Senate hearings.

Sotto hails House move

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the House move to give protection to Mago was “very good.”

“As long as she is safe. Her testimony in the Senate is more than enough,” he said. “The people have heard enough.”

Hontiveros expected Mago to be “comfortable” during her stay at the House, “but hopefully not too comfortable.”

“Interparliamentary courtesy requires that I say nothing more,” she added.

Shift to Pharmally

Another Pharmally executive, company director Linconn Ong, is in the custody of the Senate, but as a detainee held on contempt charges for giving evasive and inconsistent answers to the senators’ questions.

The Senate inquiry was opened in August to look into the allegedly irregular transfer of at least P42 billion in pandemic response fund from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

The focus of the probe shifted to Pharmally after senators learned that the small company won whopping amounts in contracts from the PS-DBM and the DOH.

The investigation has pitted the Senate against Malacañang and President Duterte, who started criticizing senators after allegations of overpriced pandemic supplies from Pharmally emerged late August.

The President began attacking Gordon personally after it was revealed that his former economic adviser and longtime Chinese friend Michael Yang was linked to Pharmally and was found to have loaned money to the company and had introduced its officers to his friends and suppliers in China. He defended Yang, saying he was just a businessman.

Sotto said that out of courtesy to a coequal branch, the Senate would not arrest Cabinet members to force them to testify in its inquiry, even if they followed Duterte’s order to disregard any summons to attend the hearings.

“Respect and prudence towards a coequal part of our government is still alive and well on the part of the Senate,” Sotto said in a Viber message to reporters.In a televised talk on Thursday night, the President said that he would order officials of the executive branch to stop attending the Senate inquiry.

Duterte, however, also extended protection to witnesses who are not government employees or officials, telling the police and the military not to assist the senators in arresting private individuals not cooperating in the Senate’s investigation.

“Stay out because there is a brewing constitutional crisis here. Not of our own making. The fault does not lie in us,” he said, addressing state security forces.

Pangilinan said it appeared that the President was “desperately trying to cover up” irregularities and the move to ban officials from testifying in the Senate probe would only fuel speculations that they were “trying to hide corruption.”

‘A witch-hunt’

In his latest attack against Gordon and the inquiry this week, Duterte said the senator was overstepping his jurisdiction and abusing discretion, which is unacceptable in a democracy.

“We are run by laws and rules and you cannot do that for us, for you, to wait for kingdom come,” the President said, referring to recent remarks by the senator.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Senate inquiry was no longer in aid of legislation.

“It is a witch-hunt. It is a persecution. It is in aid of election,” he said.

Tony La Viña, constitutional law professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, said the President could be committing an impeachable offense if he were to block the Senate investigation.

“It’s a violation of the Constitution when you try to stop a coequal body from doing its duty. That’s culpable violation of the Constitution as well as betrayal of the public trust,” he said in a phone interview.

La Viña however, downplayed the President’s constitutional crisis scenario.

“There is no constitutional crisis because the Senate has all the power to have all those [cited in contempt] arrested and it has the means to do it—the sergeant-at-arms,” he said.

A constitutional crisis occurs when “there’s a contest of powers, but there’s no contest of powers here,” La Viña said. —WITH A REPORT FROM CATHY CAÑARES YAMSUAN

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TAGS: House, Krizle Mago, Pharmally, Senate probe
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