President Rodrigo Duterte warned of “trouble and crisis” in the government if the Senate orders the arrest of Cabinet members amid its probe on alleged irregularities in the use of COVID-19-related funds.
Duterte on Monday night criticized the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee for failing to produce evidence to support its corruption allegations against the government in the use of pandemic funds last year.
In his late-night Talk to the People, Duterte said the Blue Ribbon, headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, had failed to produce anything to prove its accusation of corruption.
“I don’t care. I didn’t give you money. As far as I’m concerned, Red Cross does not exist. You can create a controversy there or a crisis. I do not mind because I said I’m on the right track. Either you submit the auditing procedure, or we quarrel. If we quarrel, do your worst because I will do mine,” Duterte said.
He also said that Gordon, who also heads the Philippine Red Cross, conceded there was no overpricing, but still insisted on pursuing what Duterte called a partisan inquiry.
“Even the Commission on Audit did not claim government money being lost to corruption in the Department of Health,” he said, adding the state auditor “did not find any malpractices such as overpricing and ghost deliveries during the procurement of medical supplies.”
The administration, particularly the DOH, has answered the accusations and inquiries of the Blue Ribbon Committee with regard to the issue, Duterte noted.
He also called on the lawmakers participating in the inquiry to stop politicking and let the government, particularly Cabinet secretaries, focus on their task of protecting the country and its citizens against COVID-19.
“The inquiry is being done at the expense of dragging government officials and compromising the government’s efforts against COVID-19 at the time when cases are at all-time high and thousands of our people are getting sick and dying,” he said.
Gordon’s objective in continuing the probe “is to tarnish the good reputation of the administration and to derail its COVID-19 response efforts, especially as the country gears towards the 2022 election,” Duterte said.
Reacting to Duterte’s tirades against him, Gordon challenged Duterte, whom he called a “bully,” to do his “worst.”
“Quite frankly, Mr. President, you are boring. I am not afraid of you. I am not a coward. Do your worst, as you did with the ABS-CBN. Do your worst like what you did to the senator who was elected by the people,” Gordon said.
“I know you will try to do your worst like you did with Speaker Nograles before, when you used ‘P.I.’ to a very, very respected schoolmate from Ateneo,” said Gordon at the resumption of the Blue Ribbon committee hearing.
Gordon’s panel is looking into the irregularities that marred the multibillion-peso procurement of medical supplies by the Department of Health through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (see related story – Editors).
The senator earned the ire of the President after Duterte’s allies were tagged in the latest anomaly that rocked the DOH.
But Gordon said he was not going to waste his time with Duterte, telling the President: “You’re no longer respectable as far as I’m concerned and as far as most of the Filipinos are concerned.
“You can hurt me. Do you think I’m afraid of you? My father was assassinated... They lobbed a grenade at him. There was also an ambush attempt,” related Gordon.
“Do you think I will be afraid of one person? I fear God. I fear the people, but I am not a coward, Mr. President,” he pointed out.
“You’re a bully. And I’m sorry, Mr. President, but the Filipino people can fight back against bullies. Filipinos can have a revolution against bullies,” assured Gordon.
Gordon also castigated the President for hastily coming to the rescue of Chinese businessmen and his appointees involved in the ongoing Senate probe.
He questioned the President, whom he called “Attorney Duterte” for lawyering and defending these people and not Filipinos.
The lawmaker also slammed Duterte for using his regular public briefing to “lambaste” him, the Senate, and the Philippine Red Cross. “Instead of talking about the pandemic, jobs and unemployment, he decided that he would try to demolish this person as well as even the society that I have religiously worked without pay for the last 53 years,” emphasized Gordon.
“You have deprived the Filipino people, Mr. President. Many are dying but you are busy politicking. Why do you pick up a fight with people who are doing their job? You don’t like corruption, don’t you?”
In his latest public address aired Tuesday night, Duterte asked Gordon to answer allegations that he had parked P88 million “pork barrel” funds to the PRC.
The President also warned of “trouble in government” if his Cabinet men would be detained by Gordon and the Senate.
In related developments in the House, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta shrugged off Gordon’s tagging him as ‘demolition expert.”
Health Secretary Duque told lawmakers during Wednesday’s congressional hearing that the Department of Health received a complaint that 44 of 49 fully vaccinated health personnel tested positive for COVID-19.
Duque’s statement emerged upon inquiry from Marcoleta, whom Gordon called the “demolition expert” behind the rejection of broadcast network ABS-CBN’s new franchise.
Duque said the case was now being handled by Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago, who referred the matter to the RITM for “evaluation and assessment.”
On the issue of ABS-CBN’s closure, Marcoleta said, “The reason for the closure of abs-cbn is now a matter of public knowledge. It has nothing to do with the COA report, a subject matter of investigation of both houses of Congress.”
“The House of Representatives of the 17th Congress acted in the highest interest of our people in denying the franchise of the said network based on multiple violations that were judiciously exposed -- and later ratified by an enlightened public,” the lawmaker added.