Hits Gordon anew, pushes Red Cross audit
PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said he is allowing Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Carlito Galvez, vaccine czar and chief of the National Task Force against COVID-19, to continue attending Senate inquiries so they can go on telling the “plain truth” about government purchases and use of public funds in connection with efforts to address the pandemic.
Duterte on Tuesday said all Cabinet members invited by the Senate must first seek his permission to attend any inquiry, and will not allow them if he feels that his appointees will just be berated in public.
The President, in his “Talk to the People” address aired yesterday, also instructed Solicitor General Jose Calida to formally request the Commission on Audit (COA) to “ immediately” conduct an audit of the finances of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC). The COA earlier said that it does not have the authority to audit the Red Cross.
The PRC is chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon who is also chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee which is investigating alleged overpriced purchases by the government of medical equipment and other items needed in COVID-19 response efforts.
Duterte has been hitting Gordon and other senators since the hearings started last month. Yesterday, Duterte said that since Duque and Galvez have attended earlier Senate hearings on the issue, he wants them to continue facing the Senate so they can tell the truth.
“Gusto ko ito sila Secretary Duque pati si Secretary Galvez to finish their story.
Naumpisahan na eh… pero iyung iba and in the future, I’m sorry, I will be the one who will say, go to Congress to testify or to the Senate or do not go to Congress (I want Secretary Duque and Secretary Galvez to finish their story. They have started it… but in the future,
I’m sorry, I will be the one who will say, go to Congress to testify or to the Senate or do not go to Congress),” he said.
He reiterated the lawmakers can place his Cabinet officials in contempt for not attending the hearings but he will not allow them to be arrested.
The President also said he does not want to quarrel with the senators but he does not know what else they want to come out from the hearings. He said his Cabinet is “clean” and not involved in any anomaly.
“Even if we continue to hear this case until kingdom come, I do not think that you will get anything there except … so that you will be noticed and maybe try to impress the voters in this coming election that you are an intellectual, that you are a, a ghost buster for corruption in government,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
The President reiterated he does not expect the truth to come out in the hearings conducted by the committee under Gordon because the senator, he said, is badgering and interrupting resource persons. He compared the Blue Ribbon inquiry to that held by the
House where he said lawmakers do not badger the resource persons and instead give them time to answer.
COA chief Michael Aguinaldo, reporting to the President, reiterated that allegations of overpricing in the procurement of pandemic supplies last year by the Procurement Service-
Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), using DOH funds, did not come from the agency. He said COA’s “observations” in the report it released last month “relate more to inventory management than overpricing.”
The Senate Blue Ribbon has been looking into the PS-DBM and its alleged questionable purchases last year from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, which is being linked to former presidential adviser Michael Yang, a Chinese businessman and Duterte’s former adviser on economic affairs.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III maintained the chamber is just exercising its oversight functions.
“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,” Sotto said. – With Raymond Africa