Duterte escalates attack vs Gordon, Senate probe
After disparaging Sen. Richard Gordon for his portly figure, President Duterte unleashed fresh and more serious assaults against the head of the Senate blue ribbon committee that is investigating the alleged overpriced purchases of pandemic supplies by his administration last year.
Mr. Duterte said he would have the Philippine Red Cross subjected to scrutiny by the Commission on Audit (COA) because Gordon, the chair of the nongovernment humanitarian organization, was using it as a “milking cow” to feed his political ambitions, including a run for the presidency next year.
The Senate investigation, now focused on the undercapitalized Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. which bagged P8.7 billion worth of contracts for medical supplies, was interfering with the work of the Department of Health (DOH) and it should stop, Mr. Duterte said.
Senators learned that the addresses used by the trading company were fictitious and its top executives were now on the run from authorities in Taiwan for financial crimes.
The President dismissed allegations that pandemic supplies, such as face masks purchased by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) from Pharmally were overpriced and concentrated fire on Gordon.
“You know you are using this Red Cross, and I dare say that you are really using it for the elections,” the President said in a prerecorded address broadcast late Thursday.
“This is your milking cow, to tell the truth,” he said. “As far as I can remember, even before I entered politics, Gordon, you have been handling the Red Cross and you control the agency like the way you control everything. You are so bossy and I think that the true work of the Red Cross is not reflected in your actuations.”
Mr. Duterte castigated Gordon for stopping COVID-19 tests for the government at the height of the pandemic last year due to delayed payments, saying that this was the “most foul” act committed by the senator.
Reacting to the President’s tirades, Gordon on Friday said he won’t allow the President to distract him from pursuing the Senate’s inquiry into the alleged mismanaged pandemic funds and find those responsible.
Unlike courts of law, “I don’t need guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but I am going to try to approach this [point] as much as possible,” he said.
‘An honor to be attacked’
“We will let the axe fall where it may,” Gordon said during an online meeting of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry where he was guest speaker.
“Tell your people to answer the question, ‘What did you do with the money?’” he said, addressing Mr. Duterte. “I’m sorry, Mr. President, if I don’t please you. I’m not here to please you, I’m here to protect the welfare of the Filipino people.”
The senator said it was “an honor to be attacked” for doing his job in the Senate and the Red Cross, and that he had “nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Don’t pick a quarrel with me just so I can’t focus on my work. You have said that you told your people not to steal, so tell them to respond [to the allegations],” he told Mr. Duterte.
Gordon said he stood by his record in the Red Cross, where he started as a volunteer 53 years ago. He was elected to the board in 1985, and became chair and CEO of the humanitarian group in 2004.
Mr. Duterte said it was “unethical” for Gordon to serve as both senator and Red Cross chair, and asked that the senator clarify whether he was holding two government agencies.
He said he will demand a COA audit of the Red Cross.
But according to its chair, Michael Aguinaldo, the COA does not have jurisdiction over the Red Cross, but it can audit payments made to it by Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
The Red Cross is not a government entity. Its charter, Republic Act No. 10072, recognizes the Red Cross as an independent, autonomous nongovernment auxiliary to state authorities in the humanitarian field.
The charter obliges the Red Cross to submit an annual report on its activities and financial condition to the President at the end of the year.
Mr. Duterte said Gordon was pretending to be clean but he believed the senator would be unable to explain many things “if there is an honest-to-goodness examination of the book of records and the audit of the past years.”
He cited the plunder complaint against Gordon for allegedly allocating P193 million of his pork barrel funds to the Red Cross. It was filed by former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in 2017.There were also “disallowances and charges” at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority amounting to P140 million where Gordon served as chair from 1992 to 1998.
Probes to cause ‘delay’
The President has been going after Gordon and other senators leading the investigation of the government’s pandemic purchases. The others are Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Mr. Duterte said they should not look into a project until after it was completed because the investigation would hamper its implementation.
“You will derail it. You will delay it by your incessant penchant for investigating government offices,” he said.
The Senate, however, has been inquiring into completed expenditures and purchases made by the DOH in 2020.
The other senators, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III, pushed back against the President’s criticisms of its inquiries and his demand to end them.
He said Mr. Duterte’s call to halt Senate investigations, particularly of the DOH, was baseless.
Sotto pointed out that the Senate was investigating “issues of the past,” not ongoing programs.
“The Senate is simply doing its job. The government offices have nothing to worry about if they are doing nothing wrong!” he said in a Viber message to reporters.
As powerful as he is, the President cannot impose his will on a Senate “composed of 24 republics,” Lacson added.
“I cannot see how anybody, even if he is the President of the country, can influence us on an issue involving public funds especially in the middle of a pandemic,” he told reporters.
Pangilinan said it was part of the Senate’s mandate to uncover “massive, unconscionable corruption and holding those behind it accountable.”
Hontiveros said the prevailing state of emergency due to the pandemic should not stop the Senate from keeping watch over how taxpayer money was being spent.
“In fact, it is because of the pandemic and the numerous emergency purchases that we need more and better—not less and weaker—mechanisms for accountability,” she told reporters.
Drilon called on the Senate leadership to respond to Mr. Duterte’s provocations “as it is the Senate as an institution that is being lectured upon.”
Sotto said the Senate leadership would “remain independent but cooperative” in the work to pass the 2022 budget on time. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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