MANILA, Philippines — The country may face a constitutional crisis if President Rodrigo Duterte insists on reviewing who among his cabinet officials can attend the Senate hearings on allegedly anomalous procurement of pandemic supplies, an activist group warned.
According to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), this is because it seems the President is intent on disregarding the powers of a co-equal branch of government — the legislative department — just to supposedly cover up irregular activities.
“Duterte now requires Cabinet Secretaries to first seek his approval before attending Senate hearings. Heto na ang mas matinding cover-up at pagbale-wala sa isang co-equal branch of government,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said on Tuesday.
(Duterte now requires Cabinet Secretaries to first seek his approval before attending Senate hearings. Here comes an even more intense cover-up and disregard of a co-equal branch of government.)
“Tinutulak ng Pangulo ang isang Constitutional crisis para pagtakpan ang katotohanan at ang kurapsyon. Ginagamit pa ang Bayanihan Act para bigyang katwiran ang graft and corruption sa procurement,” he added.
(The President is pushing towards a Constitutional crisis just so he can cover up the truth and the corruption. He is even using the Bayanihan Act to justify graft and corruption within the procurement.)
In his pre-recorded briefing aired earlier, Duterte said that cabinet members invited to Senate inquiries should first seek clearance from him, being the head of the executive department.
Duterte said that he will “limit” what the chamber can do if he feels there is abuse of authority. Also, the President noted about how much time the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings consume, even if the resource persons are not being asked and interviewed.
“This time, I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation, and if I think if walang silbi except to harass and be berated in front of the public, hintuin ko na ‘yan at pagbawalan ko na,” he said in a taped public address aired on Tuesday morning.
(If I think there is no purpose to it except to harass and be berated in front of the public, I will stop it. I will bar the Cabinet member from attending.)
Duterte’s move comes after several of the executive branch’s officials have been called to various inquiries done by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, after the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged huge chunks of the Department of Health (DOH) COVID-19 funds.
Aside from remarking that DOH’s COVID-19 funds contained deficiencies, COA also highlighted the P42 billion transfers made by the department to the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM).
Over P8.7 billion of the funds were transferred to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., which was revealed to have a small capital of P625,000. During the Senate hearings, it was revealed that what Pharmally did was to ask local and Chinese suppliers to provide the items, which they then deliver to the government.
Pharmally then pays the suppliers once government is able to disburse the funds. For big ticket projects, Chinese businessman Michael Yang either guarantees that Pharmally can pay their dues, or helps the company mount funds so that it can transact with government.
Bayan said that the Pharmally deals now “have the makings of a scam of the decade,” which could even rival the Pork Barrel Scam masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles — which was said to have bagged deals around P10 billion using fake non-government organizations.
“The transactions favored a company that had no significant capital, no track record in government procurement, no capacity to import and no capacity to manufacture and entirely dependent on the support and financing of the President’s former economic adviser. There is reasonable basis to suspect that this is a mere dummy company acting as middleman,” Reyes said.
“There now seems to be the possibility of ghost deliveries in the procurement of medical supplies as PS DBM inspection forms were being signed prior to actual deliveries,” he added.
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