President Duterte is pushing an audit of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), whose chair, Sen. Richard Gordon, leads the Senate panel probing the billions of pesos worth of alleged overpriced pandemic response supplies purchased by the government.
During a pre-recorded public address aired yesterday, Duterte said he was ordering Solicitor general Jose Calida to write Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Michael Aguinaldo to request for an immediate audit of the finances of the PRC.
“The next step would really be the letter to be delivered to the COA by Solicitor general Calida regarding my request to audit the Red Cross,” Duterte said.
Previously, Aguinaldo said the COA has no jurisdiction over the PRC, which is a non-government humanitarian organisation.
However, the President insisted that the Red Cross is not exclusively an international body because it receives government funds.
Duterte said the senators investigating the procurement of medical supplies are “stupid” and are just grandstanding.
He claimed that while there is corruption in some agencies of government, his Cabinet members are clean.
“I’m making you this guarantee my Cabinet members are not involved in corruption. They are all clean. Senators are the ones involved. Gordon is one,” he said.
“Who are you Gordon? You are nothing but a corrupt official. We will reach a point that I will have it (PRC) audited. I will force the issue… You accepted money so you should be amenable to the audit because that is the money of the Filipino people,” he added.
‘Not a thief like you’
Gordon has assailed Duterte for criticising the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s probe on the procurement of medical supplies and asked him whether he is hiding something.
He has also claimed that the President was practically “inciting to sedition” when he asked officials to ignore the invitation of senators to appear before the hearings.
Duterte said he is not intimidated by Gordon’s tirades. “You (Gordon) don’t scare me, not in a million years. I am not a thief like you. I don’t have a Red Cross serving as my milking cow every day,” he said.
The Chief Executive further accused Gordon of using the PRC to raise funds for his election campaigns, an allegation dismissed by the senator as an attempt to divert attention from the Senate probe.
Duterte said the senator is playing with people’s lives because people are being asked to pay for blood.
“Your capital is blood. You have no shame,” the President said of Gordon. “You pay for it even if you are poor. But the purpose of bloodletting is to provide help to your fellow Filipinos.”
Duterte went on to unleash a slew of insults against Gordon, saying the senator has lost his respect.
The President called him a “despot” and a “pathological storyteller” who kept on interrupting the resource persons who attended Senate hearings.
Duterte also advised the public to dump Gordon in the upcoming elections because he is a “fraud.”
“To my countrymen, just forgive Gordon. Don’t vote for that crazy man. He is useless,” he said.
Duterte lauds House hearing
While Duterte had harsh words for the Senate hearings, he was all praises for the recent inquiry conducted by the House of Representatives on pandemic supply purchases by the government.
“Now, I’m happy that the House… the committee on good government and public accountability… initiated a congressional inquiry into the alleged misuse of funds of certain agencies for the government’s COVID-19 response,” Duterte said of the chamber dominated by his allies.
“I think those who were already called in the Senate might be called by the House to testify again. So that is good because in the House, they will be given every chance to talk. It was fair…The witnesses were heard and…(were) allowed to explain, there was no badgering and no bullying, no one argued with the resource person,” he added.
Duterte said last Wednesday’s House hearing was “a more sane inquiry” and was “devoid of rudeness, bias, and partiality…”
“It was an investigation that was not conclusive and based on facts as provided by the resource person,” he said.
Senate remains steadfast
Despite Duterte’s tirades and criticism from lawmakers in the House, senators said they remain steadfast on their investigation into possible corruption in government procurements.
Gordon said the criticism from some pro-Duterte congressmen was meant for the senators to lose focus on the issue.
“Designed to lose our focus,” said Gordon. “We are totally focused. Evidence is very overwhelming and strong.”
Like Gordon, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said: “We will not be distracted.”
Senate President vicente Sotto III said “investigating and knowing the truth never brought any harm to a nation. Senators are not prosecutors. We simply ask questions and recommend. The executive and the Ombudsman prosecute, not us.”
Diwa party-list Rep. Mike Aglipay, who chairs the House Blue Ribbon committee, however said the investigation into the procurement deal of the DOH through the PS-DBM which is being conducted by the counterpart panel in the Senate is tainted with political motives.
“Let’s not pretend as if we don’t know the motive of a person. The reason why they are making noise now is because they are running for president. That’s just it,” Aglipay told PTV News yesterday in an interview.
He said the parallel investigation being conducted by his panel in the House has shown that the procurement of the medical supplies and equipment under the Bayanihan 1 law last year was aboveboard.
Urgency and transparency
In the same House hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III justified the swift procurement process that he said was necessary to contain the spread of the disease at the outset of the pandemic last year.
“Sometime in March when it started, we had a few thousands of COVID-19 cases and the first reported deaths were about 27 healthcare workers. We had no luxury of time, we cannot wait until the supply stabilises because we wanted immediate protection for our healthcare workers,” Duque told lawmakers.
In a statement yesterday, the DOH reiterated that the transfer of funds to the PS-DBM was done to immediately provide PPEs to healthcare workers in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it was done with urgency, Duque stressed that the procurement process followed existing laws, rules and regulations.
“If we did not have the Bayanihan (law), our healthcare workers might not have been provided with PPEs,” he said.