MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed Solicitor General Jose Calida to pen a letter addressed to Commission on Audit (COA) chair Michael Aguinaldo requesting the finances of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to be audited.
The PRC is headed by Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which is probing the government’s use of Covid-19 pandemic funds.
“I am ordering the SolGen, si Calida, to write Aguinaldo a letter and ask Aguinaldo to conduct immediately an audit diyan sa (there in) Red Cross na ‘yan,” he said in a pre-recorded public address aired Thursday morning.
Duterte renewed the call to audit the PRC, saying Gordon, who he described as a “despot” had used the humanitarian organization as a milking cow for his election campaign.
“Senators, I’m asking you, I do not want a fight with you, but what else do you want? ‘Yung Pharmally bahala kayo (you can do what you want). You can slaughter everybody there, whatever you want. Kami sa gobyerno (Us in the government) we ordered, there was delivery, then we paid, tapos na kami (then we’re done),” he said, referring to a local firm that bagged some PHP8.68 billion worth of deals for Covid-19 pandemic response last year.
He said the series of Senate probes “started with some incomprehensible reason”, noting that the Department of Health (DOH) is already addressing the deficiencies in the COA report which pertain to inventory matters in the supplies.
Despite a series of Senate probes into alleged overpriced purchases of government, Duterte said Gordon could not scare him because corruption was not his “style”.
“Hindi mo ako matakot (You can’t scare me), not in a million years. Hindi ako kawatan kagaya mo. Wala akong Red Cross na ginagatasan araw-araw (I’m not a thief like you. I don’t have a Red Cross that I milk money from every day). It’s not my style,” he said. “Mag 40 years ako sa gobyerno, magnakaw pa ako ngayon lang (I’ve been in government for nearly 40 years, why would I steal now)?”
‘Tell the plain truth’
Duterte said he would allow Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to keep attending Senate probes to “just tell the plain truth”. He earlier asked his Cabinet officials to get his consent before showing up at Senate inquiries.
“Kung sabagay naumpisahan na kasi (Since it was already started), Secretary Duque, I would allow him to complete his story. Anyway naka-testify naman siya sa (he was already able to testify in the) House [of Representatives]. Just to allow Gordon to show more of his stupidity. Kaya pabalik ko sila (That’s why I’ll let them return). Just tell the plain truth kay Gordon,” he said.
He expressed confidence that Gordon’s panel would not be able to find any anomalies, stressing that his Cabinet members were all “clean.”
“Even if we continue to hear this case until kingdom come, I do not think that you will get anything there except that you want to dance before the… of public opinion so that you’ll be noticed and maybe try to impress the voters in this coming elections that you are an intellectual, that you are a ghostbuster sa mga katiwalian sa gobyerno (of anomalies in government),” he said.
Duterte also praised the House committee on good government and public accountability for allowing their resource persons a “fair chance” of getting their stories heard, in contrast to Gordon’s panel in the Senate.
“I think those who were already called in the Senate might be called by the House to testify again. That is good because in the House, they will be given every chance to talk. It was fair…the witnesses were heard and allowed to explain. There was no badgering, no bullying, no one argued with the resource person. Ang Lower House walang Gordon e (The Lower House doesn’t have a Gordon). This is how an inquiry should be, far from the witch hunt being undertaken by the Senate,” he said.
In Duterte’s public address, video clips of a recent House hearing on Covid-19 supply procurement were played.
Clips contained statements of officials insisting that deficiencies in the purchase of medical supplies were related to “inventory management”, not overpricing.
In the same hearing, Aguinaldo clarified that COA’s audit report did not mention any “overpricing” in the procurement of personal protective equipment and other Covid-19 supplies made by the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (PS-DBM).
Aguinaldo said the observations made in the report pertained more to the inventory management of the PS-DBM and does not say anything about the alleged overpricing of the medical supplies.
Duterte renewed his call to Filipinos against voting for Gordon in the upcoming elections.
“If the Filipino people, nakikinig kayo (is listening), dump the guy. He’s a fraud,” he said.
Meanwhile, Duterte dared Gordon to file criminal charges of inciting to commit sedition against him for requiring his Cabinet officials to seek his consent before attending Senate inquiries.
“Do your worst and I’ll do mine. Idemanda mo ako ng sedition at idemanda rin kita at ako mismo ang maghuli sa ’yo (File charges against me for sedition and I’ll do the same and I’ll catch you myself),” he said.
He vowed to “force” the issue of getting the PRC audited, stressing that the humanitarian organization is not exclusively an international body because it receives funds from the government.
Gordon earlier said Duterte’s gag order “restrained” the Legislative Branch from performing its work by asking Cabinet officials not to show up.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, in a press statement, said it was Gordon’s panel that was guilty of inciting to sedition because it hampered government operations.
“The remarks of Senator Gordon against the President on inciting to sedition may thus actually refer to his committee. It is them who have been restraining the Executive Branch to do its work, including addressing the present pandemic, by compelling key officials to a hearing which has been described by many as an investigation in aid of election,” Panelo said. (PNA)