Duterte takes aim at Gordon's role at Red Cross, revives row over RT-PCR tests


MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night took aim at Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee holding hearings on government pandemic spending, saying his being chairman of the Philippine Red Cross may be a conflict of interest.

Sen. Christopher Go, the president's long-time aide and chair of the Senate health committee, earlier this week made the same charge, saying Gordon should not be involved in the probe since the PRC has dealings with the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

The president said incorrectly that the Philippine Red Cross is a government agency and said it was suspicious that Gordon is both a senator and Red Cross chairman.

Although the Philippine Red Cross was initially created by Republic Act No. 95 in 1947, it was a voluntary organization even then.

Its charter did not include government funding and held that "as a national voluntary organization, the Philippine National Red Cross shall be financed primarily by contributions obtained through personal solicitation campaigns."

Republic Act No. 10072, signed in 2010, recognizes the Philippine Red Cross as an independent and autonomous non-government organization.

President claims conflict of interest

Gordon has yet to announce his political plans for the 2022 polls but Duterte said he heard that the senator plans to run for vice president.

The president and his spokesperson have been saying that calls to investigate government spending on pandemic response are motivated by politics despite deficiencies being flagged by the Commission on Audit, an independent constitutional body.

"Tumatakbo ka rin (You are also running) and nanalo ka and you are holding the Red Cross, you are the top honcho there and being a senator and at the same time, medyo malabo yata ginagawa mo (what you're doing might not be right)," he said.

The president also questioned the PRC pressing the government to pay for RT-PCR tests that the Red Cross performed in the early months of the pandemic and a plan to "sell" COVID-19 vaccines — a claim that the organization already clarified in May.

RELATED: Red Cross says it's charging for cost of Moderna jabs, not selling vaccines

Row on Red Cross RT-PCR tests

The president was referring to a row between PRC and PhilHealth in 2020 over unpaid tests.

"They don’t want to pay? Then we stop testing. We’re not blackmailing here. We just have to take our legal courses of action. I don’t wanna do that. I’m not against the government," Gordon said in October 2020 as PhilHealth's debt breached P1 billion and as he hinted at legal action to recover the amount owed.

The Philippine Red Cross eventually had to briefly halt testing, saying it "does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its lawful obligations to PRC."

PhilHealth made a partial payment to PRC of P500 million of P1.1 billion but Gordon, in December, said as the state insurer's debt continued rising that "[i]t's very unfair that we're the ones put in a bind when it's the government's job [to ensure testing]." 

"We're in a bind because we're helping but our help is being abused. It's not right," Gordon said then.

RELATED: Gordon denies Philippine Red Cross is ‘greedy’

On Thursday, Duterte told Gordon off for what he said was leaving Filipinos to die over the unpaid tests. He also said he would ask the COA for its audit report on the Red Cross, which is not a government agency.

He also accused the senator, a long-time chairman of the PRC, of using the humanitarian organization as "a milking cow." — Jonathan de Santos

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