President Rodrigo Duterte has declared he would bar Cabinet officials from attending Senate investigations if they stand to fall at the receiving end of congressional “harassment” and “abuse of authority.”
In a speech Monday that was aired yesterday, Duterte ordered officials of the executive branch to seek and await first his permission before attending a congressional inquiry.
“I will require that Cabinet members invited to the hearings — that they clear the invitation with me,” Duterte said. “And if I think… they’ll be harassed and berated in front of the public, I will stop them. I will bar them from attending.”
The President said Cabinet officials may be cited in contempt for not attending the hearings, but stressed that his order was intended to “limit” what Congress can do with the executive department.
“You have an option. You can cite the person in contempt, but I will say that I’m the one who ordered them to skip it. That is, well, I think, I can do it as President, clearly, if there is an abuse of authority there,” Duterte added.
He thundered that the hearings, with some lasting over seven hours, were “a waste of time” of government officials.
Mr. Duterte cited, in particular, the case of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who, he said, has been missing his duties at the department because he was always summoned to the probes.
He averred though that he was not questioning the Senate’s oversight function and its power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation.
“But I saw that you called so many people to hearings that lasted five, six, seven hours, and yet some of them are just waiting and doing nothing,” Duterte added.
He claimed lawmakers have been “stretching” the investigation to advance their interests with the May 2022 elections just around the corner.
The President has singled out Senator Richard Gordon, the head of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, for “posturing” in leading the investigations.
Gordon, as chair of the Philippine Red Cross, has been tagged in a “conflict of interest” situation for charging the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) with allegedly overpriced Covid-19 tests, and without giving the mandatory discount for tested senior citizens.
The President said he will actively campaign against Gordon, who has been projecting himself as a candidate for president next year.
Mr. Duterte also told lawmakers he’s not interested in the fate of the officers of Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., a Singapore-based firm contracted by government to supply pandemic supplies in 2020.
“We don’t care about them. What we care about is that we placed an order, they delivered it, and we were able to negotiate the price,” he said.
Responding to the President’s tirades, Gordon said restraining the legislature from performing its work may be construed as “inciting to sedition.”
He also defended his committee’s inquiry on the pandemic purchases, saying it can be discussed in the Senate since it does not concern national security and diplomatic secrets.
“You are restraining [the] legislative, a co-equal branch of government from performing its work and telling them don’t attend. That’s sedition, I mean, that’s incitement to sedition,” Gordon said.
The lawmaker also claimed that Duterte was merely “fouling up” the atmosphere of free debate.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in a separate message to reporters, said that while Duterte’s order was his prerogative as Chief Executive, the Senate would continue the hearings on the procurement of medical supplies to determine whether there were irregularities in the purchases.
“The Senate will exercise its legislative oversight function over government projects and expenditures that we approved,” he said.
with Sundy Locus