President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday ordered members of the executive department to ignore Senator Richard Gordon's summons to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which is investigating irregularities in his administration’s purchases of medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his Talk to the People briefing, Duterte hit Gordon’s statement that the senators would continue the probe "until kingdom come" until they got some answers.
“’Till kingdom come? Who are they to say that. That is a very undemocratic statement,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Duterte, who has come to the defense of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., the company at the heart of the scandal, a undercapitalized startup that bagged P8 billion in government contracts, said Gordon was “playing God” for having his Cabinet members attend the hearings while there is a pandemic.
He told Health Secretary Francisco Duque and the head of the national COVID-19 response, Secretary Carlito Galvez, to “pull back” and refocus their attention on the pandemic.
“Never mind Gordon. He is nothing,” Duterte said.
“Do not do what Gordon says because he is treading on dangerous ground,” he added.
On Sept. 14, Duterte said he had barred his Cabinet members from attending the Senate probe into the Pharmally mess.
Two days later, he allowed Duque and Galvez to "complete the story" at the Senate probe.
"Well, I'm telling you now, I have ordered [Executive] Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea to prepare the… memorandum to all in the executive department [to] no longer obey your summons because you said kingdom come,” Duterte said, clearly addressing Gordon.
Duterte said Gordon was "overstepping" his jurisdiction and that the senator committed an "abuse of discretion."
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate would not order Cabinet members arrested for staying away from the hearings.
"Respect and prudence towards a co-equal part of our government is still alive and well on the part of the Senate," Sotto said.
He said the Constitution states the Senate "may request" them to appear, so it is clear that it is not obligatory.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said President Rodrigo Duterte is desperately trying to cover up the mess with Pharmally. He said there is more reason for the people to believe that corruption is being concealed.
He also said memo of the President will be futile due to the damning testimonies given during the Senate Blue Ribbon probe into the misuse of billions of pesos in COVID-19 pandemic response funds.
He noted that the testimonies of non-Cabinet officials rather than his Cabinet members exposed the massive corruption.
"The truth will still be uncovered even if the members of the Cabinet refuse to attend,” Pangilinan said.