Duterte’s naming lawmakers in graft probe hit as ‘diversionary tactic’
MANILA, Philippines — Progressive groups and former Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte was using a “diversionary tactic” when he named several alleged corrupt lawmakers to distract the public’s attention from the use of an unauthorized vaccine on some soldiers.
ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap said he would call an inquiry into the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), criticizing it for failing to get the side of the House members, including himself, before the anticorruption agency placed their names on a list of allegedly corrupt lawmakers.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, also blasted the public disclosure of alleged corrupt lawmakers without “hard evidence” and questioned the President’s motive.
Duterte on Monday night named Baguilat, Yap and six other House members along with six district engineers of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) who allegedly received kickbacks and engaged in other corrupt practices while in office. (See related story in Regions, Page A10.)
The President, however, stressed that his disclosure was “not a condemnation or an indictment” of those on the list.
His spokesperson, Harry Roque, disputed the diversionary tactic allegation against the President and said Duterte’s decision to disclose the names of the lawmakers was part of freedom of information.
“The President does not need a diversionary tactic for something that he himself had disclosed. Why would we deflect attention away from it when it was the President’s own revelation?” Roque said in a press briefing.
He said the President wanted to send the message to lawmakers and to the DPWH that they should “shape up because the good days are over.”
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the fact that some soldiers had already been inoculated with a vaccine made by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm, which the President himself disclosed on Saturday, was itself a corrupt act.
“Corruption is the smuggling of unauthorized vaccines and allowing use by public officials, presumably using public funds,” Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary general, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The use of the Sinopharm vaccine not only violated regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it also “makes a mockery of the FDA and insults our health front-liners,” he said.
“Whether public funds were used or whether the vaccines were donated by China in exchange for the approval of contracts, these constitute corruption,” he added.
Only 1 Cabinet member
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday said some members of the Presidential Security Group and only one Cabinet member had received the vaccine.
He refused to identify the Cabinet member because he didn’t want to violate “his right to privacy.”
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chair Danilo Ramos urged Congress and Carlito Galvez Jr., who is in charge of the government’s national vaccine program, to investigate the “illegal vaccination” of several soldiers.
“Before there was a VIP COVID-19 testing, now a VIP vaccination is happening. This is an affront and grave disrespect to our medical front-liners who are putting their life on the line to battle the pandemic,” he said.
Baguilat on Twitter denied the corruption allegation against him.
“We kicked out of Ifugao the engineer who was allegedly asking for kickback using my name, yet I am the one being accused,” he tweeted on Monday night.
“It’s a diversionary tactic because there is smuggled unregistered Sinopharm vaccines and our soldiers were made guinea pigs. That should be investigated,” Baguilat later said in a text message to the Inquirer.
In a statement, Pangilinan criticized the President and members of his inner circle for keeping silent on the “clear and concrete evidence” of actual corrupt acts. He cited the purchase of overpriced COVID-19 testing kits and the reported smuggling of tons of illegal drugs through the Bureau of Customs.
“Is this really an anticorruption campaign, or is it a campaign against the opposition and meant only to ensure submissive allies?” he said.
Roque said the President had explained that the list was a public document.
He pointed out that Duterte was criticized last month for withholding the names lawmakers linked to corruption in public works. The President reasoned that he had no jurisdiction over members of Congress and had no business investigating a separate branch of government.
The President was in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, Roque said.
Speaking to reporters on Monday night, Yap accused PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica of “witch-hunting.”
At the press briefing in Itogon, Benguet, where he serves as the province’s caretaker, Yap said he would seek a congressional inquiry into the PACC when the House resumes sessions next month.
According to Yap, Belgica was the source of numerous allegations against lawmakers after the PACC official was charged with graft in October for supposedly watering down a smuggling investigation of alleged irregularities at Duty Free Philippines.
Yap, chair of the House appropriations committee, also said some Benguet politicians he did not identify of engaging in “black propaganda” to tie him to public works irregularities.
The House investigation of the PACC would help provide safeguards in the law creating the PACC so none of its employees would be implicated in irregularities, Yap said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said at least two lawmakers on the President’s list were also named in the complaints brought to the Task Force Against Corruption, which he heads.
The justice secretary declined to identify the two lawmakers “until we have found something substantial” against them.
Guevarra said the task force was still vetting the information they received about some House members.
He said the task force on Monday submitted to the President an update on its investigation.
The secretary said he had not seen the PACC report to the President, which Malacañang may forward to the multiagency task force led by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“If it is complete by itself, the PACC may file it directly with the Office of the Ombudsman. Otherwise, the President may refer it to the DOJ-led task force … for validation, further investigation, or case buildup,” he said.
Reacting to the President’s disclosure, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said on Tuesday he would relieve the six district engineers who were implicated from their current posts and reassign them elsewhere.
The President had asked Villar to give him the names of the district engineers and their assignments all over the country and said he would reshuffle them.
Civil Service Commission member Aileen Lizada on Tuesday said the reorganization in the DPWH should be a “wake-up call” to the agency’s officials, especially those who have been used to the “perks” of the job.
“If you are there for perks, grease money, you are prioritizing yourself and that is no longer public service. Do not use public service for personal gain,” she said.
She lamented that some district directors enjoy such perks as eating out or checking into hotels, courtesy of contractors who are afraid to speak up.
A reshuffle is usually done by the management every two to three years to avoid familiarity, but corrupt officials must be dismissed and prosecuted, Lizada said.
—With reports from Melvin Gascon, Marlon Ramos, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Nikka Valenzuela and Vincent Cabreza
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