Palace: Pacquiao may have been absent when Cabinet officials discussed COVID-19 response

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace: Pacquiao may have been absent when Cabinet officials discussed COVID-19 response
In this June 2, 2021 photo, Sen. Manny Pacquiao questions the Department of Energy during a hybrid plenary session following the power outages that hit some parts of Luzon.
Senate PRIB / Joseph Vidal

MANILA, Philippines — The verbal bout between the camps of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Manny Pacquiao continues as Malacañang said Wednesday that the lawmaker may have been absent when officials discussed the procurement of supplies and equipment for COVID-19 response.

Duterte has chided Pacquiao, the acting president of the ruling party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, for criticizing the supposed corruption in the administration and challenged him to identify the agencies and officials involved in corrupt practices.

The president has threatened to expose Pacquiao as a "liar" and to campaign against him during the 2022 polls if the senator fails to identify those who are into corruption.

Pacquiao, who is reportedly planning to run for president next year, has accepted Duterte's challenge and called for an investigation on the pandemic-related purchases made by the Department of Health (DOH).

"Perhaps Sen. Pacquiao was absent when cabinet secretaries made a presentation or if he was not absent, he may have been preoccupied with something else," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said during the ceremonial vaccination of workers in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Roque noted that Health Secretary Franciso Duque III had already attended a Senate hearing to explain the purchases made by the government for its pandemic response.

"No cases were filed after Secretary Duque made the explanation," the Palace spokesman said.

"I do not know if he was in the Senate hearing or whether he asked Secretary Duque a question that time," he added.

National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon said the government is open to any investigation on its purchases.

"Transparency will always be the foundation of this administration so there is no problem with that," he said.

In a statement issued last Tuesday, Duque said the DOH is "disheartened" by the "baseless" accusations but is ready for inquiries to be conducted by lawmakers. The agency has also expressed readiness to show where the loans for the COVID-19 vaccines went.

Asked how he thought the tiff between Duterte and Pacquiao would end, Roque replied: "Politika po talaga. Politika po ang katapusan nito (It's about politics. This will end in politics)."
"I think the people will judge who will lead in 2022," he added.

Before his rift with the boxer-turned-senator, Duterte declared on various occasions that Pacquiao is fit to become president of the Philippines.

When Pacquiao paid a courtesy call on Duterte on Nov. 14, 2016, the president raised his hand and said "For president na ito ha (He's for president)."

During the celebration of Pacquiao's 39th birthday in General Santos City on Dec. 17, 2017, Duterte remarked: "Yung style mo na ‘yan gusto kita gawaing presidente. Alam mo kaya mo (With that style of yours, I want you to become president. You know you can do it)."

The souring relationship between the two officials manifested when Duterte criticized Pacquiao in public for saying that he finds the administration's response to the West Philippine Sea row lacking. He said the senator has a "very shallow knowledge" of the dispute and advised him to study the matter first.

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