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Senate taking to SC Duterte gag order on Cabinet

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Senate taking to SC Duterte gag order on Cabinet
Sen. Richard Gordon bared this yesterday, claiming President Rodrigo Duterte is losing sleep and having nightmares over the corruption scandal tarnishing the administration’s procurement of P42 billion worth of COVID-19 supplies that allegedly involved a close friend and former adviser as well as several appointees.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will question before the Supreme Court next week President Duterte’s memo barring Cabinet officials from attending the Blue Ribbon inquiry, a move agreed upon during a recent all-member caucus.

Sen. Richard Gordon bared this yesterday, claiming Duterte is losing sleep and having nightmares over the corruption scandal tarnishing the administration’s procurement of P42 billion worth of COVID-19 supplies that allegedly involved a close friend and former adviser as well as several appointees.

Gordon, who chairs the panel investigating alleged irregularities in the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), said Duterte is panicking and using government resources to stop the inquiry even as more evidence is gathered linking the Chief Executive to the anomalies.

“Of course, we want to gather more evidence as much as possible so the people can clearly see that all of these would not have happened if there was no permission from the higher-ups, and the highest official is now the one defending (those involved) and using all the powers of government for them (appointees) not to appear (in the hearing) to solve this problem,” Gordon told ‘The Chiefs’ on One News.

He said Duterte has been consuming significant airtime in his weekly public address to attack and threaten him in a futile attempt to isolate the corruption scandal as a personal quarrel between them and not a matter of national importance.

“I’ll tell you, Mr. President, you are not sleeping well are you? You’re not sleeping well. Every night your report to the people has become a report to the senators, to Sen. Gordon,” he said.

Gordon stressed that senators are not going to be baited or budge from their duty to find the truth.

The senators, he revealed, have found several “badges of fraud” involving Duterte’s former adviser Michael Yang, former PS-DBM head Lloyd Christopher Lao and his other appointees as well as the owners of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. that was able to corner contracts – over P11 billion of the P42-billion budget of the Department of Health – for the purchase of face masks, face shields, PPEs and test kits.

“But what did he say? He wants us to stop. ‘Stop the nightmare. I can no longer sleep. Stop it.’ But we cannot stop,” Gordon said.

‘Accused for political gain’

Meanwhile, Senate fugitive Mohit Dargani, one of the owners of Pharmally, slammed the committee for failing to treat him and other company executives “justly” even as he cleared Duterte of any involvement in the company’s transactions with PS-DBM.

“Rather than impartially listening to us, they tried to get us to incriminate ourselves. They want us detained because we asserted our rights, they can’t get what they want to hear from us,” Dargani said in a statement.

“We are being falsely accused for political gain. (The elections are approaching) and we are like hostages. (Not for the country), but for their political survival… They treat us like criminals whose lives aren’t worthy of living anymore. We tried our best to cooperate and respect them, but this was completely out of harmony with accepted legal standards,” he said in Filipino and English.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Gordon in separate statements, however, dismissed the claims of Dargani, who has yet to be located as of press time by the Senate sergeant-at-arms after he and his sister, Twinkle, were ordered arrested on Tuesday for refusing to provide the documents of their financial statements.

Gordon said Mohit and Twinkle are considered “Senate fugitives.”

“Attending a Senate hearing can be easy and it can be hard. It is hardest when witnesses do not cooperate or not do not give or share information necessary to our faithful performance of our tasks,” he said.

He said the Darganis were treated fairly as the circumstances warranted but Mohit continued to refuse to cooperate so the chamber has to utilize its rarely used power to cite him for contempt – “not to punish him, but to compel him to give us a complete picture of the issue being investigated.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) reiterated yesterday that there was “no overpricing” on the agency’s procurement of ambulances.

In a statement, it claimed that the ambulances were bought through a “competitive bidding” conducted by 17 DOH regional offices and 54 hospitals.

“The Type 1 Ambulance procured by the DOH is a type of ambulance which requires higher number of equipment and training and is envisioned to provide basic life support, as compared to the other type of ambulance called the Patient Transport Vehicle which is priced lower,” the DOH noted.

As to allegations that the ambulances’ medical equipment are also grossly overpriced, the agency explained that “much like the differences in the type of ambulance, there are also differences (on) the type of medical equipment required inside a Type 1 ambulance compared to non-licensed Patient Transport Vehicle.”

“For overpricing to be established, the medical equipment being compared must be similar as to the brand, quantity, timelines and quality,” the agency said.

The DOH gave assurance that all procurement within the department “strictly follows the policies, rules and regulations.”

“Also, through competitive bidding, there were actual savings realized on the part of the agency on this ambulance procurement,” it maintained.

The statement showed that all these ambulances procured in 2019 were fully delivered and utilized by health facilities across the country.

In an earlier budget hearing at the Senate, Sen. Panfilo Lacson had questioned the overpriced ambulance equipment bought by DOH for its Calabarzon office. – Sheila Crisostomo

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