The Duterte administration could ask the courts to compel the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to submit its financial records for scrutiny, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Sunday.
Panelo made his remark as Duterte repeatedly demanded that Gordon open the humanitarian organization’s financial records.
“For one, if they won’t voluntarily give the report, we can go to court to compel them to comply with what the law asks them to do,” Panelo said in an interview over DZBB.
He said the PRC would have liability if it failed to submit its financial records and would have a violation if it failed to submit them within five years’ time.
Meanwhile, PRC said it had “faithfully accounted for the use” of donations after Duterte threatened to stop the government’s transactions with the humanitarian organization if it refuses to undergo a state audit.
“To date, there has not been any adverse finding on any transaction whereby government funds were given to the Philippine Red Cross,” the organization said, adding its records of donations may be obtained directly from donor state agencies.
“The Philippine Red Cross has faithfully accounted for the use of such funds in compliance with the donor agencies’ liquidation and reportorial requirements. These government agencies, in turn, are subject to annual audit by the Commission on Audit,” it said in a statement.
Panelo said the Red Cross should submit itself to an audit of its finances if they wanted to prove that its business dealings did not “smack of greed and a desire for inordinate profit.”
“If it truly has nothing to hide, then the PRC should refrain from coming up with imagined reasons why the Filipino people do not have a right to be informed on the business dealings of an entity upon which they have granted a multitude of benefits and exemptions,” he said in a separate statement.
Panelo questioned the absence of legally mandated discounts on PRC services, particularly on COVID-19 testing.
He cited how the PRC boasted that it was the leader in COVID-19 testing in the Philippines, having conducted more than 4 million reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, which it said accounted for about 25 percent of the entire tests conducted in the country.
“Oddly though, the PRC conveniently failed to disclose that it hasn’t been forthright in its sale of services to the people,” he said.
The PRC previously said it was audited by a private and international accounting firm, which has spotted no anomalies with the organization’s handling of funds from numerous donors.
COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo has said the body has no jurisdiction over the PRC as it is not a government agency. He said COA could only look into PhilHealth’s payments to the Red Cross for running COVID-19 tests.
Panelo reiterated that the PRC, which is already exempt from the payment of all taxes, failed to apply discounts on its RT-PCR tests for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) as mandated by Philippine law.
“Taken in context with the more than 4 million RT-PCR tests that the PRC has conducted and multiplied by the price that it offered it at, which was at one point P4,000, it appears that the PRC may have well indeed bagged billions of pesos in profits, in clear and apparent contravention of the law,” he added.
He also questioned why party-list organizations and other cause-oriented groups, who were supposed to protect the rights of the elderly and PWDs, were silent on the issue.
Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo said President Rodrigo Duterte was coddling several government officials linked to corruptionallegations, adding the Chief Executive himself should order an investigation on these officials.
This, after she was asked to comment on Duterte’s recent tirades against the PRC chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, who also leads the
Senate probe into the supposed overpriced procurement of government’s COVID-19 supplies.
According to Robredo: “I hope they are more open to our concerns because if I were the President, even if I am not included in the corruption, just a mere allegation, why would I wait for the Senate to investigate?”
“I, myself, would be the one who would authorize the probe. But right now, the allegations are clear, and yet he is coddling them. The evidence is there.”
Duterte had criticized senators, saying the investigations on alleged irregularities in the government were mere posturing, despite these investigations being part of legislators’ mandate.
The President also defended Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and former Presidential Adviser Michael Yang despite the company and Yang’s links to the controversial procurement of medical equipment during the pandemic.
READ: Senators confusing Yang’s two distinct events—lawyer
Robredo also questioned the government’s deals with Pharmally officials, even if its executives, including its chairman Huang Wen
Lie, were allegedly wanted in Taiwan for securities fraud, stock manipulation, and embezzlement.
But in a Senate probe, Huang said he had yet to receive a formal arrest warrant from the Taiwanese government.
In a prerecorded public address aired Saturday morning, Duterte again vented frustrations over a series of hearings by the Senate Blue
Ribbon Committee led by Gordon on the government’s procurement of medical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He threatened to cut ties with the PRC and stop its funding if Gordon rejected his call for the humanitarian organization to undergo a state audit.
Duterte also said it would be a dereliction of his duty as head of COA if chair Michael Aguinaldo refused to audit the PRC.
Earlier, Malacañang said COA could conduct a special audit of PRC’s finances, citing Article 9 of the 1987 Constitution which provides that the state auditing body has the power to examine on a post-audit-basis all accounts pertaining to the uses of funds by PRC that is “receiving subsidy or equity, directly or indirectly, from or through the government.”