The Duterte administration is training its guns on national and local officials it accuses of violating lockdown protocols, including Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, and Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, even though Robredo and Sotto were trying to provide relief during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) has urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe Robredo over her relief drive, which it said undermined the efforts of the national government to stop the spread of COVID-19.
PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna said that “being a part of the national government,” Robredo is barred from competing with the Department of Health and other agencies, “or undermining their efforts, and from soliciting donations, in cash or in kind, from the taxpaying public, especially since funds have already been appropriated or set aside for relief assistance, disaster mitigation, [and] rehabilitation.”
He said Robredo’s involvement in COVID-19 response undermines the government’s efforts to address the crisis and this must be investigated.
READ: NBI tells Vico to explain virus law ‘violations’
Robredo has been working with private companies and groups to raise funds to help frontline health workers amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“Robredo’s efforts, such as the provision of free shuttle service, dormitories and protective gear for health workers may be in violation of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 and the Solicitation Permit Law,” he said.
The PACC also accused Robredo of politicking, as her name was prominently displayed on buses and boxes of donations being given to the public.
While the people may welcome her efforts to extend the necessary help to the people, the tarpaulins clearly don’t serve any purpose other than whatever interests Robredo seeks to advertise, it said.
Robredo’s camp slammed the PACC.
“The PACC statement is so ridiculous, so inappropriate, so out of touch, that I had to verify if it was really true. I am deeply disappointed that it was,” Robredo’s spokesman Barry Gutierrez said.
“Since Day One of the COVID-19 crisis, VP Leni has done all she can to help health workers, government institutions, and ordinary Filipinos overcome the challenges they have had to face due to the restrictions on travel, the shortages in supplies, and, of course, the ever present threat of infection,” he said in a statement.
The Vice President was able to mobilize the private personalities tohelp in the procurement of personal protective equipment for medical workers; provide free transportation for essential travel; buy extraction kits for the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine; offer food at police and military checkpoints, and even establish dormitories for health workers in need of a place near their hospitals, he said.
“As of today (Thursday), the Office of the Vice President has delivered PPEs to over 100 hospitals, clinics, and LGUs nationwide, and yet, nearly 500 requests remain in the pipeline. Other private initiatives have also done their part. And I am certain that all these groups that have come together to help, the OVP included, would only be too thrilled if national government agencies came in with their larger budgets and bigger organizations to provide all the equipment and supplies that these institutions need,” he said.
Gutierrez said health workers all over the country are running out of the much-needed PPE while attending to the medical needs of the COVID-19 patients, and that where the PPE would come from does not matter to them.
“She has done al this without requesting additional public funds or seeking expanded powers. She did this because she saw a need, and she took action to meet it. She did this because it was the right and responsible thing to do,” he said.
“And now, unbelievably, the PACC wants to ‘investigate’ her for it. And for what reason? Because she was ‘competing’ with other agencies,” he added.
“Anyone who insists that bringing much-needed assistance to hospitals, health workers and poor Filipinos is somehow a ‘competition’ has absolutely no understanding of the gravity of the crisis we are all facing.”
“Besides, is the largest crisis the world has faced since World War II really the best time to talk about investigations, particularly of people who have done nothing except do the best they can to help out?
I leave it to the PACC, and the rest of national government leadership, to answer this question for themselves,” he said.
“In the meantime, rest assured, VP Leni will continue to do all she can to help,” he said.
Robredo’s supporters in the Senate lambasted the PACC.
“It saddens us that there are people who could be so heartless and power hungry as to take advantage of this crisis to advance their political ambition,” said Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan, in a joint statement.
“National and local officials who have shown initiative and innovation in responding to COVID-19 crisis are politicized, criticized and crucified,” they said.
Senators, as well as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), also slammed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for summoning Pasig Ciy Mayor Vico Sotto for allegedly violating the Bayanihan Act that was recently passed to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Taking the cudgels for his nephew, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the mayor, who had used improvised tricycles to transport health workers during the lockdown, did so before the law cited by the NBI was passed.
“Any so-called violation of RA 11469 (Bayanihan Act) can’t be retroactive,” the senator said. “What are they talking about? Laws are never retroactive if detrimental to any accused.”
On his Twitter account, the Senate leader also asked: if no law was violated, why summon the mayor?
He added that it was the DILG that had jurisdiction over any erring local official.
A DILG spokesman also hit the NBI.
“This act of summoning the mayor of Pasig is a useless political distraction at this time when all of us are preparing and all of us cooperate to beat the COVID-19 crisis that we are in,” DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told CNN.
An anti-crime oriented party-list group on Thursday said the NBI’s probe of Mayor Sotto was political harassment.
ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo said the group will send lawyers to defend Sotto from accusations that she said the NBI will spend time, money and effort to pursue just to benefit Sotto’s political rivals.
“This young leader has focused on what matters most: public service and the welfare of his constituents. In contrast, the NBI leadership would rather waste paper, time, and effort on a fishing expedition that would benefit, among others, the political opponents of Mayor Vico.”
Also on Thursday, the Department of Justice said the NBI would investigate Senator Pimentel for violating quarantine protocols, even if nobody files a case against him.
“My instruction was, if Makati Medical Center (MMC) or any other party in interest does not file any complaint, then the NBI may initiate its own fact-finding and ask Senator Koko [Pimentel] to explain his side,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
Guevarra made the statement after NBI said that they would invite Pimentel to shed light on the allegation that despite being a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19 who was tested for the virus on March 20, he still accompanied his wife to the MMC on March 24, thus exposing health workers there to infection.
The NBI said Pimentel would be asked to give his side once he has completed his quarantine or once he has been discharged from hospital.
Pimentel already apologized to the MMC, which issued an angry statement about his actions.
Earlier, a group of lawyers led by Rico Quicho vowed to prepare a complaint against Pimentel, and even urged support from medical organizations, doctors, nurses and patients in filing a criminal, civil or administrative case against Pimentel.
Quicho had said that by filing charges against the senator they would not only make him accountable but also set an example.
Meanwhile, Senator Christopher Go debunked reports his office labeled boxes of COVID-19 medical donations with his name.
Photos were posted social media showing boxes of surgical masks and personal protective equipment sent to hospitals bearing Go’s name. There were also photos where boxes were labeled, “From Malacañang (Sen. Bong Go).”
Go branded as “malicious” the social media posts that he said were created to discredit him.
In his Facebook account, Go said, “Let me state this in very clear and unmistakable language: claims circulating that I am involved in handling donations intended for the government are UTTERLY FALSE, DELIBERATE DISINFORMATION, AND BLACK PROPAGANDA.”
“In this time of crisis, if you cannot help, just quarantine your mouth!” he said.
Go said his Malasakit Center is not involved in the distribution of safety gear against COVID-19.
Nor is he involved in the operations of the Office of Civil Defense, he added.
The opposition senators also said that private organizations, companies and institutions should not let themselves be used for obvious political propaganda.
“When charity is politicized, it stinks. In times like this, it kills,” they said.
They also questioned the need for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to distribute social amelioration cards (SAC) and gather personal information again when it has in its possession a complete database of poor and low-income families needing more assistance from the government.
The SAC is a form being distributed at the barangay level to capture the family profile, which will be used as the basis in providing aid to the affected families.
“Why are they collecting information again? We have a functional National Household Targeting System that is used by the DSWD in implementing the 4Ps program,” the senators said.
“Does it mean that their database is not reliable? If they cannot explain it, well, we cannot help but think that it is part of an effort to create a database for the 2022 campaign,” they said.
The senators said DSWD and other agencies should just use their existing database in implementing the social amelioration package during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Let us spare our fellow Filipinos this unnecessary procedure. Our kababayan are getting hungry and desperate for help. They lost jobs. Give the aid ASAP,” they said. With AFP
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