The Palace on Monday described Senator Manny Pacquiao’s corruption exposé as watusi, a harmless firecracker favored by small children, instead of the bombshell it was supposed to be.
In a press briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was nothing explosive about Pacquiao’s exposé, which he said was “worthless.”
“Watusi. Nothing. It’s nothing. Because these are generalized allegations.
No bill of particulars. No specific instance. No evidence,” Roque said.
Roque said Pacquiao was just politicking because he could not present concrete evidence to support his allegations of massive corruption in the Duterte government.
The Palace official also chided the senator for initiating an investigation when he would not be present during the probe.
Meanwhile, Starpay Corporation hit back at Pacquiao's allegations over the "ayuda" funds from the Department of Social Welfare and Development coursed through the firm's mobile app, saying Monday that the senator's claims were baseless and founded on unverified data.
As a licensed electronic money issuer (EMI) being supervised by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Starpay pointed out that the required capitalization to apply for an EMI license is P100 million, not just the P62,000 Pacquiao mentioned as its current capitalization.
"The correct and accurate figures are easily verifiable with the Securities and Exchange Commission," the firm said in a statement. Starpay said it already liquidated the funds given to them by the DSWD meant for SAP (Social Amelioration Program) beneficiaries, and refunded it through several checks valued at P8.239 billion given to the department's Land Bank account.
DSWD confirmed this in a previous statement, adding that Starpay refunded the amount for unserved beneficiaries after the partnership was terminated in April 2021.
The boxing champ-turned-politician is now in the US preparing for his bout with Errol Spence Jr. in Las Vegas on Aug. 21.
“[As] Senator [Richard] Gordon said, what will happen [to the Senate investigation if]… the proponent is absent? Who will ask the questions?” Roque said.
Roque said Pacquiao, who wants to run for president next year, should focus on his job and not politics.
“That’s not the work you do in the Senate. He should focus on his job as a senator. Prove his allegations, otherwise it’s all politics,” Roque said.
The Palace also rejected Pacquiao’s request to have a dialogue with Duterte.
“If he really wanted to talk with the President, he shouldn’t have talked with the media,” Roque said, referring to Pacquiao’s initial claim, made to the media, that corruption was three times as bad in the Duterte administration as it was in the previous government.
Officials from the departments mentioned by Pacquiao in an online press conference Saturday denied his allegations of corruption on Sunday, but the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) said it was investigating 13 cases of possible corruption in the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“We are probing nine cases of corruption in DOH, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III knows it. This is ongoing," PACC chairperson Greco Belgica said during a briefing Monday.
"For DSWD, we are investigating four cases since we received 9,000 complaints over SAP," he added, referring to the Social Amelioration Program or the distribution of cash aid to low income families during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Belgica said this in response to allegations made by Pacquiao about corruption in these agencies, including a suggestion that P10.4 billion worth of cash aid was not distributed to beneficiaries—a claim the DSWD denied.
Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said the investigation of corruption in the government agencies could be conducted after Pacquiao returns from his boxing bout in the United States next month.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee, currently chaired by Gordon, investigates alleged wrongdoings of the government, its officials, and its attached agencies.
Earlier, Gordon said it was “strange, if not irregular however, that the accuser, Pacquiao, would not be present during the investigation he sought.
Pacquiao has not submitted any documents to the Blue Ribbon committee to support his allegations.
Both Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson noted the importance of these documents.
Senator Aqulino Pimentel III, a staunch ally of Pacquiao, assured his colleagues that the boxing champ would submit his evidence when he returns from his US boxing bout.
Pacquiao left the country July 4 for training in Los Angeles in preparation for his bout in August.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said the Senate should investigate the allegations regardless of the source, saying all citizens can and should hold the government to account.
She said the Blue Ribbon committee can investigate the allegations on its own, without a resolution.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, meanwhile, said Pacquiao's alleged expose of corruption at the Department of Energy is an effort to "remain relevant."
"Senator Pacquiao’s unfounded allegations involving billions of pesos seems to be an attempt to remain relevant so that people will continue to talk about him while he is abroad doing his job and getting paid millions of dollars," Cusi said in a statement.
The Energy chief said any allegation of corruption is a serious matter and must be substantiated.
"Senator Manny Pacquiao must himself prove it with substantial and convincing evidence," Cusi said.
"As with all whistleblowers, he should be held accountable for his statements, and be responsible enough not to issue a defamatory statement and then just up and leave," he said.
Cusi denied any corruption in the establishment of the independent market operator, the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP).
"The establishment of a market operator (IEMOP) was in compliance with the EPIRA Law,” he said.
Pacquiao previously questioned the decision of the Department of Energy to authorize the private firm IEMOP to become a power stock market operator when it only had a paid-up capital of P7,000.
“From a paid-up capital of only P7,000, IEMOP became an instant billion-peso company in just one year,” said Pacquiao, who is battling Cusi for control of the ruling PDP-Laban.
Cusi said the accusation was old hat.
“If Senator Pacquiao did his assignment, he will learn that all the issues that he raised are rehashed and have been subjected to a full congressional inquiry by the Lower House. The DOE has fully and comprehensively discussed and explained properly the propriety and legitimacy of IEMOP. The DOE welcomes the accusations of Senator Pacquiao and is ready to answer these in any forum,” Cusi said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice-Task Force Against Corruption is ready to receive any complaint from Pacquiao, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday.
Guevarra said Pacquiao may also initiate a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman or to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission if he has the evidence.
“I’m sure Senator Pacquiao knows his options. If he has sufficient evidence on hand, he may cause the filing of anti-graft charges directly with the Ombudsman or the DOJ,” Guevarra said in a text message.
He said his task force would be ready to investigate any corruption allegations, regardless of the complainant’s intention.
“To the extent possible, the TFAC disregards the possible motives of complainants, we make a thorough evaluation based on the allegations in the complaint, whether there is enough factual basis to proceed further, or require the complainant to provide more information on which to build a case,” the DOJ chief said.
Also on Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) denied Pacquiao’s allegations that it purchased medicines that were near their expiration date.
“We do not buy near-expiry supplies or medicines) because we are following the existing policies and laws of the government,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing.
Vergeire said government policies, protocols, and laws prohibit the DOH from buying medicines that are about to expire.
She said the DOH can only accept or procure medicines that have a shelf life of 18 to 24 months.
In case of a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic, medicines with a 12-month shelf life may be purchased.