With the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit (CoA) technically clearing several government officials of malfeasance in the purchase of medical equipment for pandemic response, it’s likely the prober of these alleged shenanigans would soon be the target of charges related to his private role outside of public service.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Liong insisted during the Congress hearing on Wednesday that nobody “powerful from Malacañang” meddled with the budget department’s decision to award the purchase of billions-worth of medical supplies to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
Liong also cleared Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go of involvement in the contract.
CoA chair Michael Aguinaldo also maintained that there was no overpricing on the materials bought by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
His statement was delivered at the same House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability hearing.
Outside it, however, private lawyers reached Daily Tribune also on Wednesday to report on plans by citizens to file suits against the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and its chair and CEO, Senator Richard Gordon, over their alleged disregard of laws that should grant senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWD) discounts, specifically on RT PCR and saliva testing for Covid-19.
Gordon’s panel, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, is probing the same issues on the pandemic response purchases in the Chamber.
The government had wanted Gordon and the Red Cross audited over funds they received from the public coffers supposedly for its humanitarian programs.
The lawyers claimed their clients bewailed Gordon’s Red Cross alleged refusal to consider their senior citizens and PWD identification cards to avail of the discounts guaranteed by law.
No probe needed, file charges
Senior citizens’ welfare advocate and lawyer Romulo Macalintal said investigations are no longer needed to pin Gordon’s Red Cross down if there would be complaints filed against it.
It was President Rodrigo Duterte who initially called out Gordon and the Red Cross over the alleged violations of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003.
“The Red Cross should have extended discounts to senior citizens and the PWD if they claimed to avail of it,” Macalintal told Daily Tribune. “Somebody should file a complaint, or the President — himself — goes to Red Cross and seeks a discount. Discounts should have been given.”
“No investigation is needed if there’s a complainant,” he averred. “If Red Cross actually denied them of the discounts, it should refund those who have failed to avail of them, especially now that we are in a pandemic.”
If no amicable settlement is reached, Macalintal said a case can be filed against an erring establishment.
“No complainant means no case,” Macalintal said. “These elderlies should demand performance of the obligation or claim the discount.”
Under Section 4 of the Law, of the Privileges of the Senior Citizens, elderlies shall be entitled to 20 percent discount and exemption from value-added tax (VAT) on the sale or purchase of medicines, including the purchase of influenza or pneumococcal vaccines, and such other essential medical supplies, accessories, and equipment to be determined by the Department of Health (DoH).
Same discounts are provided to professional fees of attending physicians in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics, and home care services; professional fees of licensed professional health providing home health care services as endorsed by private hospitals or employed through home health care employment agencies; medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics, and home health care services, in accordance with the rules and regulations to be issued by the DoH, in coordination with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
Duterte had charged Gordon of charging patients “astronomical prices” of P4,000 to P4,700 per Covid-19 test. No discounts were given to senior citizens and PWD, he said.
Meanwhile, Malacañang on Wednesday said the Senate Blue Ribbon panel chaired by the lawmaker has been “inciting to sedition” for restraining the Executive branch’s work amid the pandemic.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo took up the cudgels for the President after Gordon claimed that the Chief Executive’s recent tirades against Congress would cripple the Legislature’s work, which he said maybe construed as “inciting to sedition”.
“The remarks of Senator Gordon against the President on inciting to sedition may thus actually refer to his committee,” said Panelo, referring to the Senate blue ribbon panel.
“It is them who have been restraining the Executive branch to do its work, including addressing the present pandemic, by compelling key officials to a hearing which has been described by many as an investigation in aid of election,” he added.
While the senior Palace official acknowledged the Senate’s oversight function and authority to conduct hearings, he pointed out that such inquiries should be conducted in an “efficient manner so as not to prevent the body or agency subjected to such inquiry from performing its mandate to serve the people.”
“Rambling inquiries that partake of the nature of witch hunts or fishing expeditions should be refrained from, particularly those that practically prevent a body or agency of government from performing its functions,” Panelo added.
He then urged lawmakers to keep themselves in check to avoid “transgressing” the limits prescribed by the Constitution as he noted the need for “mutual respect” among co-equal branches of government.