President Rodrigo Duterte said he would take responsibility for the accounting of all public funds spent to fight the pandemic and assured the public individuals found guilty of fund misuse would be jailed.
Duterte made the remarks in a taped public message Tuesday morning, insisting the government’s coronavirus budget was not a “blank check,” as he warned that any person pocketing or misusing the COVID funds would “go to prison.”
“All expenses related to the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response will be properly accounted for,” Duterte said, adding “I want everybody to know that upon my oath of office, do not worry, all of the money spent here for COVID will be accounted for.”
The President added he would endorse the filing of charges by the Department of Justice against individuals found guilty of fund misuse.
“We have to spend, but we have to spend wisely and correctly. We are still spending, we are not through. Allow us time to do our thing, spend the money and there will always be a time for reckoning and that will be the time when we account for the money that we have used in the fight against COVID,” he added.
“Do not worry because those who shortchanged (will be accountable), we will get it back. I will be the one to endorse the case to the prosecuting office. I will personally sign it,” the Chief executive said.
Duterte appealed to the public to allow the Secretary of Justice to complete the investigation so they could see how the funds were spent.
To start the accounting of COVID funds, the President ordered the National Task Force for COVID-19 to properly report on how all the funds were spent and their intended purpose.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Malacanang was hiding nothing and all of the expenses, all of the money spent for COVID-19, went to the government’s COVID-10 response.
Duterte made the statement after several senators earlier filed Resolution 479, asking the Commission on Audit to examine the government’s spending on its COVID-19 response.
The resolution was filed after concerns were raised over government purchases “marred by allegations of overpricing,” including the procurement of automated nucleic acid extractors, personal protective equipment sets and the importation of RT-PCR test kits from China and South Korea.
Meanwhile, Duterte urged Congress to create an oversight committee that would monitor the disbursement of funds earmarked to ensure the government's effective fight against COVID-19.
“Congress is free to participate or create oversight committees – committees of all sorts,” he said.
“I am urging Congress, as a matter of fact, I am demanding Congress to join us in putting up measures to ensure that the money is spent to (sic) its purpose.”
Duterte’s statement came as the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), which aims to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, only needs his signature to become a law.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed Bayanihan 2 which is expected to reach Duterte’s desk by Tuesday.
Duterte said Filipinos have the right to know how the government was using the money allotted for the COVID-19 response.
Duterte said the proposed congressional oversight panel might also summon state agencies and departments with questionable spending of funds.
Around P165 billion will be allotted for the proposed Bayanihan 2, which intends to extend the validity of Duterte’s special powers by providing a stimulus fund to support the country’s response and recovery interventions for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The P165-billion stimulus package consists of P140 billion in regular appropriations and P25 billion in standby funds.
At the same time, Duterte expressed confidence his Cabinet members manning different government agencies would not allow corruption to proliferate amid the pandemic.
“I have no doubt that they will not allow corruption,” he said.
He said he was also willing to direct all government offices and departments to disclose their COVID-19 spending every 15 days to prove there was no irregularity in the disbursement of funds.
Duterte also said there was no “magic wand or silver bullet” that will solve the country’s problems due COVID 19, but assured the government was doing its best to mitigate the pandemic.
At the same time, Duterte appealed for more patience from his countrymen until a vaccine was made available.
He assured the public the government was continuing to respond to the pandemic by recalibrating its health system strategies.
“The government is not perfect,” Duterte said, adding “the government continues to implement recalibrated efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
Duterte, who has been supervising the government's pandemic response from his home city of Davao, said the government would fine-tune its strategy if needed.
“We will continue to respond to the rising challenges in our pandemic, recalibrating our strategies if we must be based on science and data,” Duterte said.
Duterte expressed hope the vaccines from China or Russia would provide the Philippines with their respective vaccines once clinical trials were completed.
“It’s nearly complete. Russia and China have both announced that they have it and they’re ready and they’re willing to help. Both countries released a statement that they will help me,” he said.
Duterte also said he might be the first one to get the vaccine or the last person, but assured that the 20 million poorest of the poor would receive a free COVID-19 vaccine despite the cost.