The chair of the Commission on Audit (CoA) said in a House budget hearing Friday that state auditors cannot conduct an audit on the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) as it is not under their jurisdiction. This as President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Thursday night slammed Senator Richard J. Gordon — who is also the head of the Red Cross — for leading an inquiry into the government’s procurement of overpriced medical supplies, saying a Senate panel tasked to investigate state wrongdoings was being used for politicking.
President Duterte also ordered the CoA to conduct an audit on the Red Cross after he accused Senator Gordon of using the organization’s funds for his election campaigns.
“Are you really investigating in aid of legislation, or in aid of your personal political interests?” Mr. Duterte asked Mr. Gordon in a taped Cabinet meeting on Thursday night. “I heard that you want to run for vice-president next year,” he said.
The tough-talking leader said Mr. Gordon had used the PRC, a non-profit organization, to further his political career.
“Ginamit mo talaga ito para sa eleksyon,” he said. “Ito yung milking cow mo eh, sa totoo lang,” said Mr. Duterte. (You used [the PRC] for elections. In truth, it is your milking cow.)
There might also be a conflict of interest since the senator is also the chairman of the humanitarian organization, Mr. Duterte said.
The president’s long-time aide, Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go, made a similar claim last week, saying Mr. Gordon should not be involved in the probe of the government’s pandemic spending since the PRC has transactions with the state health insurer, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Meanwhile, CoA’s Mr. Aguinaldo said, “We do not have the jurisdiction to audit the Philippine Red Cross. The only thing we can audit is Philippine Health Insurance Corp. payments to the Philippine Red Cross.” He also said that the audited payments to Red Cross would be part of CoA’s audit of PhilHealth.
“It is an honor to be attacked for doing my job both in the Senate and at the Red Cross. I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Mr. Gordon at the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Meeting on Friday. “I stand by the good work I and the Red Cross has done.”
“I think it is an attempt by the president to try and distract the people once again,” said Mr. Gordon in response to the president’s statements.
During the House budget hearing, the CoA proposed a P13.79 billion budget for itself next year under the 2022 National Expenditure Program, with P12.58 billion allocated for personnel services, P571.37 million for MOOE, and P643.71 million for capital outlays. Next year’s budget would be a 2.8% increase from the agency’s spending plan for this year due to salary adjustments for personnel, completion of the CoA office building, and an increase in local travel and operational costs, among others.
DUTERTE ANGRY OVER PHARMALLY
At the same Thursday cabinet meeting, Mr. Duterte also slammed other senators who have been questioning the government’s pandemic deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Pharmally International whose executives have been linked to various crimes.
“Kayong lahat (all of you), do not investigate programs which are ongoing,” the President said. “You will derail it, delay it with your penchant for investigating government offices. You do not run this government alone by questioning the unspent amount,” he said.
At a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing last week, Mr. Gordon, who has been an ally of Mr. Duterte through most of his presidency, played a video from state media that showed former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang introducing Pharmally International executives to Mr. Duterte in March 2017.
Some senators have said that leaders of Pharmally have active criminal cases in Taiwan for alleged stock manipulation.
Senator María Imelda Josefa “Imee” R. Marcos, another Duterte ally, earlier said Mr. Yang “appears to be the go-to powerbroker in the Philippines for Chinese politicians and businessmen looking for smooth transactions in the country.”
SENATORS REBUKE DUTERTE
On Friday, Senators rebuked President Duterte’s call to stop investigations on “ongoing programs,” saying their focus is on past affairs.
CoA was able to flag government offices because previous discrepancies were revealed during its audits, and with this, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said that “the Senate is investigating issues of the past, not ongoing.”
The Senate chief said that the president should let the Senate do its job.
“I cannot see how anybody, even if he is the President of our country, can influence us especially on an issue involving public funds — and most especially in the middle of a pandemic,” said Senator Panfilo M. Lacson in a statement on Friday.
Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the Philippines’ state of emergency was not an excuse to stop guarding the country’s treasury.
“Because of the pandemic and many emergency purchases, we need more and better, not less and weaker mechanisms for accountability,” she said in Filipino in a statement, adding that honest workers had nothing to fear, with CoA providing them time to respond to its reports.
“There’s nothing to fear if the transactions are above board,” she said. Likewise, Mr. Sotto said that “the government offices have nothing to worry about if they are doing nothing wrong!”
RED CROSS’ COVID TESTING
The President had also criticized Mr. Gordon for ordering the PRC to halt its COVID-19 (coronavirus diseases 2019) testing services in August last year after collectibles from PhilHealth ballooned into the billions of pesos.
“Red Cross is supposed to be a humanitarian organization, but when the government was struggling to source funds, you threatened to stop testing,” the President said. “I cannot see the rationale of your statement na you threaten government with something which ought to be done by you irrespective of whether or not may pera ba (there is money),” he added.
The PRC last year said it “does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its lawful obligations to PRC.” It resumed testing that same month after PhilHealth settled part of its obligations.
Mr. Gordon in June said he might run for president next year. — Kyle Aristophere Atienza, Russell Louis C. Ku, and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan