President Rodrigo Duterte has directed Solicitor General Jose Calida to formally request the Commission on Audit to scrutinize the financial records of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
In a taped address aired on Thursday, Duterte said he preferred that an audit be conducted “immediately.”
“The next step would really be the letter to be delivered to the COA by Solicitor General Calida regarding my request to audit the Red Cross,” said Duterte.
The President has called on the PRC to open its financial records for thorough scrutiny by COA.
But COA chairperson Michael Aguinaldo earlier told a House inquiry they have no jurisdiction over the Red Cross, and that they could only examine government payments to the non-government entity.
Malacañang, however, insisted that government funds paid to the PRC for the COVID-19 tests were subject to COA audit.
The PRC is headed by Senator Richard Gordon, who is also the chairperson of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which is investigating allegations of overpricing in the procurement of medical supplies such as face masks and personal protective equipment last year.
“Either you submit to an auditing procedure or we quarrel. If we quarrel, do your worst because I will do mine,” Duterte said in a pre-recorded Talk to the People aired Saturday morning.
The President said he is ready for a long legal battle if that is what it would take for COA to audit PRC’s financial records.
“I do not care. I will not give funding to the PRC. As far as I’m concerned, the Red Cross does not exist. You can create a controversy there or a crisis, I do not mind because as I said, I am on the right track,” he said.
“If you are operating here and you receive the money and spend it, you are accountable to the government and therefore an audit is in order.”
“I said this will involve a long, legal battle but I am prepared to go into it and really demand the accountability of Senator Gordon and all of them in the Red Cross to account for the money that was given by the government of the Philippines for the longest time,” Duterte added.
Duterte has repeatedly denied that there was overpricing and criticized Gordon’s handling of the inquiry.
“My goodness, Gordon, you cannot scare me, not in a million years. I am not a thief like you. I don’t have a Red Cross which you turned into a milking cow. It’s not my style,” Duterte said.
In a statement on September 3, the PRC board of governors said the humanitarian organization did not receive appropriations from the government and it only received donations from private individuals, corporations, and partner international Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
“Being that the PRC is not a government agency, it is not subject to audit by the Commission on Audit,” it said.
The PRC is required to submit to the Office of the President an annual report containing its activities and showing its financial condition, according to the Philippine Red Cross Act of 2009.