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Panelo urges Red Cross to submit to audit

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Panelo urges Red Cross to submit to audit
The PRC is headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which is probing allegations that the COVID-19 response supplies purchased by the administration are overpriced.
Yancy Lim / Presidential Photos, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s chief legal counsel yesterday urged the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to allow its finances to be audited, saying the humanitarian group has “not been forthright in its sale of services to the people.”

The PRC is headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which is probing allegations that the COVID-19 response supplies purchased by the administration are overpriced.

Duterte has accused Gordon of using the PRC to fund his election campaigns and called for an audit of the group’s finances. He has threatened to stop all government transactions with the PRC if the group refuses to be scrutinized by the Commission on Audit (COA).

Michael Aguinaldo, COA chairman, said the constitutional body, however, is only mandated to examine and audit government agencies and bodies. The PRC is a non-government humanitarian organization.

Gordon has led five hearings into the purchase of allegedly overpriced medical supplies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, which has earned the ire of the President.

The senator, however, has dismissed the President’s allegations as an attempt to distract the public from the controversy surrounding the procurement of medical supplies.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the PRC is exempt from the payment of all taxes but has failed to apply on its RT-PCR tests the senior citizen discount mandated by law on sales of all services in the country. The group has also not granted a similar discount to persons with disability, he added.

“The PRC has boasted that it is the leader in COVID-19 testing in the Philippines, having conducted more than four million reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests... Oddly though, the PRC conveniently failed to disclose that it hasn’t been forthright in its sale of services to the people,” Panelo said in a statement.

“Taken in context with the more than four million RT-PCR tests that the PRC has conducted and multiplied by the price that it offered it at, which was at one point P4,000, it appears that the PRC may have well indeed bagged billions of pesos in profits, in clear and apparent contravention of the law,” he added.

Panelo claimed that the PRC’s stance contradicts the fundamental principles of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which he described as a “voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.”

“How then can the PRC claim to be a true humanitarian organization when its business dealings smack of greed and a desire for inordinate profit? If the PRC would have us believe differently, then it should willingly submit itself to an audit of its finances,” Panelo said.

“If it truly has nothing to hide, then the PRC should refrain from coming up with imagined reasons why the Filipino people do not have a right to be informed on the business dealings of an entity upon which they have granted a multitude of benefits and exemptions. After all, the IFRC espouses the development of a culture of accountability and transparency,” he added.

Gov’t donations accounted for

The PRC maintained it has faithfully accounted for the use of such funds in compliance with the donor agencies’ liquidation and reportorial requirements.

In a statement, the PRC admitted the humanitarian organization is the recipient of some donations from agencies of the Philippine government.

“The Philippine Red Cross maintained it has faithfully accounted for the use of such funds in compliance with the donor agencies’ liquidation and reportorial requirements. These government agencies, in turn, are subject to annual audit by the Commission on Audit,” the PRC statement read.

“To date, there has not been any adverse finding on any transaction whereby government funds were given to the Philippine Red Cross,” the organization said.

The PRC said reports of these donations may be obtained by the Office of the President directly from these government agencies, and audits on these government agencies, if any, may be secured from COA. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin

PHILIPPINE RED CROSS

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