President Rodrigo Duterte is requiring all Cabinet secretaries to first get his approval before attending Senate hearings on the deficiencies in the government’s use of COVID-19 pandemic funds.
Duterte expressed frustration over how a series of hearings “wasted” officials’ time by letting them sit for long hours to listen to “rambling” that was meant to give exposure to lawmakers running for office in 2022.
“I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me every invitation and if I think he will be called for nothing except to [be] harass[ed], to be berated in front of the Republic, I’ll stop it and prevent them from attending,” he said in a prerecorded public address aired Tuesday morning.
Duterte warned senators that citing his Cabinet members in contempt for their absence would lead to a “ruckus” between the executive and legislative departments.
“I think I can do it as President really if there is an abuse of authority there or exceeding the authority of the reasonable time that Congress conducts a hearing. I will limit you to what you can do with the Executive Department of the government,” he said.
Duterte clarified that he was not questioning the authority of the Senate to conduct investigations, stressing that investigations “pursuant to the truth” were always welcome.
“If I agree, if I think it’s reasonable, go. Especially if it is really pursuant to the truth you’re looking for. That’s good and I would suggest that you do it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Malacanang said Duterte had “legal basis” to require government officials to get his consent before attending Senate probes.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte could issue a document similar to Executive Order 464 issued by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005, which required all heads of departments of the Executive Branch to secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before any congressional probe. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Citing the High Court's 2008 ruling on the case Romulo Neri vs. Senate, Roque said the Senate’s contempt power is limited.
Amid questions over alleged overpriced medical supplies bought by the government, he reminded senators of the existing Republic Act 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that empowers the government to undertake procurements as exemptions from the provisions of RA 9184 or the
Government Procurement Reform Act and other relevant laws.
“In Bayanihan 1, you gave the authority to the Executive Department to disregard the procurement law. And you say you can take whatever measures for the fastest delivery of the things that we need. So that’s what we’re doing and now you are dwelling on the procurement law and asking the officials to explain their actuations?” Duterte said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee, led by Senator Richard Gordon, is looking into supposed deficiencies of the Department of Health in spending COVID-19 response funds, including the purchase of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment from a foreign firm.
Late last month, Duterte also threatened to bar Cabinet executives from attending congressional probes because of "disrespectful" treatment from senators.
He also challenged senators to send officials to jail over alleged anomalies in government purchases.
Meanwhile, Duterte also hit Gordon anew for allegedly being associated with dismissed police officer Eduardo Acierto, whom he accused of helping communist rebels get hold of AK-47 rifles.
He vowed to campaign against Gordon for being “unfit to be a senator of this republic” and having “no credibility.”
“I will say it publicly, Gordon has forever lost his credibility in cahoots with criminals and fabricated stories,” he said.
Acknowledging that it is the privilege of every citizen of this country to campaign against a candidate, Gordon however said he was flattered that Duterte gave him special attention.
In the first place, Gordon said, he had not announced he was running for whatever position in next year's elections.
"He accused me of running for president, vice president—I’ve not announced," stressed Gordon.
"And who’s running now, isn't he?" Gordon asked.
Acierto earlier linked Duterte’s former economic adviser, Michael Yang, to the illegal drug trade.
Yang reportedly has ties with local firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which bagged some PHP8.68 billion worth of deals for pandemic response last year.
Malacañang has repeatedly maintained that Yang was not involved in illegal drugs.