Senate fires back after Duterte calls its probes mere ‘posturing’
Senators hit back strongly at President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday for criticizing Senate inquiries as a mere venue for posturing that led nowhere, with “no recommendations, no persons charged, nobody imprisoned.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters that Mr. Duterte “may have forgotten, or he is misinformed” about the chamber’s inquiries and their results.
Sotto said he would send Mr. Duterte the Senate committee of the whole’s report on its inquiry into Philippine Health Insurance Corp., or PhilHealth.
“Most of his appointed officers have pending cases and were removed because of that Senate investigation,” Sotto said. “As far as I know, the [Office of the] Ombudsman usually relies on Senate investigations and reports for their preliminary investigations.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Mr. Duterte should read up on the doctrines of the separation of powers and checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government “before he interferes with the Senate.”
“The reason some high officials subjected to our investigation do not get charged is he defends them,” Lacson said in Filipino.
He also reminded the President that it was not the Senate’s job to press charges: “That’s the role of the executive branch. The judiciary is the one that sends people to prison. Is that so hard to memorize?”
Blue ribbon inquiry
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Mr. Duterte’s ire may be directed at the ongoing Senate blue ribbon inquiry into the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) on the deficiencies in the spending of pandemic response funds by the Department of Health (DOH).
The COA’s annual audit report on the DOH had sparked fresh calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, but the President dismissed the clamor.
They ‘led to nothing’
“There would be no Senate hearing if there are no complaints coming from our front-liners, our hospital operators, doctors and nurses, and many [local] officials who are angry and frustrated with the DOH’s faulty and corrupt management,” Pangilinan said.
“Malacañang should listen in on these hearings so they will know about the suffering of our people,” he said in Filipino.
In an address aired late Thursday, Mr. Duterte urged the public “not to believe in” Senate inquiries that “led to nothing.”
“Try listening to some of the senators, if they really could say something. After investigation, one or two or three days in your hearing, there’s nothing. No recommendation, no persons charged, nobody imprisoned. It’s just posturing and questioning,” he said.
In 2020, the Senate committee of the whole recommended the filing of corruption charges against Duque and other PhilHealth officials.
Mr. Duterte also ignored the recommendation to sack Duque at that time, saying he couldn’t find a “good reason” to fire an “innocent man.”
Speaking at the resumption of the blue ribbon hearings on Friday, Sen. Richard Gordon directly addressed Mr. Duterte and said his comments on Thursday were unwarranted.
“A little respect, please. We respect you. I respect you because you are the President of the Philippines. I always respect the title and the man. But let us not speak like that—accusing a coequal branch of government that we are not doing our jobs,” Gordon said.
He added: “The blue ribbon committee is here to protect the Senate and the government from graft and corruption. Above all, we protect the people … from officials who are pushing their weight around, committing corruption.”
“We are in support of all that is good for our country, and our country is in deep trouble right now.”
Sen. Joel Villanueva said Senate inquiries “are not hobbies that we pursue, but a constitutional duty we perform.”
“It is a role assigned to us by the people and not something we do on a whim. We do not relish conducting investigations. In fact, we shall be happy if the need ceases to exist because it would mean that a government is running smoothly, free from irregularities,” Villanueva said.
“This system of check and balance is how a government of laws operates, run by men who must account for their deeds, subject to audit because democracy can only thrive on never-ending oversight,” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Mr. Duterte might have forgotten the results of several Senate investigations, including the “pastillas scam” involving Bureau of Immigration (BI) personnel, a number of whom were relieved of their posts for receiving money in exchange for the unhampered entry of Chinese nationals.
“After he himself ordered the sacking of people inside the BI, he now says, ‘Don’t believe in the investigation’? Then who did he believe at the time if not the result of the Senate investigation?” she said.
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