How can the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) claim to be a true humanitarian organization when its business dealings smack of greed and a desire for inordinate profit?
This was the question posed by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo Sunday as he expressed full support to President Duterte in his belief that the PRC is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.
However, Panelo said, the PRC, under the leadership of Senator Richard Gordon, appears to have a contradictory stance.
“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, which it says accounts for about 25 percent of the entire tests conducted in the country,” Panelo explained in a statement.
“Oddly though, the PRC conveniently failed to disclose that it hasn’t been forthright in its sale of services to the people,” he added.
While the PRC, he said, is exempt from the payment of all taxes, the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel is wondering why it failed to apply on its RT-PCR tests the senior citizen discount mandated by Philippine law on sales of all services in the country.
“Neither has the PRC applied the similar discount granted by law as a benefit for persons with disability (PWD),” he continued.
Billions in profits?
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, Panelo said,” it appears that the PRC may have well indeed bagged billions of pesos in profits, in clear and apparent contravention of the law.”
“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,” he asked.
Panelo pointed out that if the PRC would like the public to believe differently, it should willingly submit itself to an audit of its finances as President Duterte wants it to do.
The fact that it regularly receives subsidy from the government subjects the PRC to the authority and duty of the Commission on Audit to examine and audit, according to Panelo.
“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,” he said.
After all, he added, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement of which the PRC is a part of, espouses the development of a culture of accountability and transparency.
Panelo is likewise puzzled by the absence of a demand for answers from the partylist organizations and other cause-oriented groups that seemingly advocate for the protection of the rights and privileges of senior citizens and PWD.
“To these so-called champions of the concerned underrepresented sectors, your silence on the issue is not only perplexing, it is certainly deafening,” he said.
President Duterte, in his weekly Talk to the People last week, slammed Gordon for charging testing services ‘at an astronomical rate’ (P4,000 to P4,700 apiece) without any discount for senior citizens or persons with disabilities.
According to Duterte, Gordon even threatened to stop the swab tests being conducted on returning overseas Filipino workers.
“At a time when we were busy testing everybody and we asked help from the Red Cross — Red Cross is supposed to be a humanitarian organization — but when the government was struggling to source funds, you threatened to stop testing,” he noted.
With President Duterte himself speaking up in their behalf, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, according to a lawyer’s group, are now asking the same questions the Chief Executive asked the PRC: Why is a supposedly humanitarian agency not providing them discounts for swab tests and vaccination services?
The lawyers’ group said they have been swamped with inquiries on the possible liability of the PRC in refusing to provide such discounts as provided by law, a clear violation, it said, of the expanded Senior Citizens Act.
The President is said to be setting his sights on possible PRC violations which the public has also been asking the lawyers’ group.
It has also reached that point, he said, that they are now looking at making Gordon himself face possible charges, the violations coming at a time when there is a worldwide health crisis.
“It’s unthinkable,” the lawyers’ group said, referring to the Red Cross’ seemingly uncaring attitude toward the plight of the public, particularly the elderlies and PWD.
The Daily Tribune tried to get in touch with Senator Gordon but failed to get a reply.
Panelo said that the President’s inquiry to PRC operation should not be pessimistically interpreted as an attempt to control the institution or intrude its independence, adding that it would render the collaboration between the two as difficult, not to mention Duterte as PRC’s honorary president.
“Clearly, the presidential inquiry into the operations of the PRC should not be immediately and pessimistically interpreted as an attempt to control the PRC or intrude upon its independence.
A contrary interpretation would render the collaboration between the PRC and the government difficult if not impossible to achieve, not to mention render inutile the designation of PRRD as the honorary president of the PRC,” Panelo said.