President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to withhold the disbursement of funds under the 2022 national budget amid the Senate’s ongoing inquiry on the administration’s pandemic spending.
In his public address that aired late Tuesday, Duterte slammed senators for supposedly warning to slash the budget of Executive agencies whose officials skipped the chamber’s hearings.
“You threaten the budget of the Executive (branch) because the officials refuse to attend your hearing. These are the abuses under a democratic government,” he said, speaking partly in the vernacular.
Duterte then dared senators to have a “showdown” with him by cutting the approved budget of government offices in 2022.
“I challenge you… Reduce it by one-third. I challenge you,” he said, without mentioning a particular senator.
“Put a zero budget under OP (Office of the President). Do it. Do you think your funds will be disbursed without passing through me? What if I don’t release it?” he dared the lawmakers.
The President’s remarks were just the latest in a series of threats and insults he had hurled at the Senate over its inquiry into the alleged irregularities in the multi-billion-peso purchase of pandemic supplies from foreign firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
Weeks ago, Duterte signed a memorandum barring Executive Department officials from attending the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings on the controversy.
The panel is led by Sen. Richard Gordon, who has been attacked by the President during his now bi-weekly public addresses over the issue.
Lawmakers criticized Duterte for issuing such a memorandum, which they flagged for supposedly violating the Constitution.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan then said that Executive officials who snubbed the chamber’s hearings would be quizzed in the upcoming budget hearings.
“To those who are not present in today’s hearing, we will see you in the budget hearings. We will raise these questions in the budget hearings,” Pangilinan was quoted as saying.
The House and Senate are mandated to scrutinize the Executive department’s budget proposals.
Lawmakers can modify the budget items in the national spending plan, which takes the form of an appropriations bill that they would approve and submit to the President’s desk for signature.
No reenacted budget
Following Duterte’s warning, presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque on Wednesday assured the public that the Philippine government will not operate on a reenacted budget in 2022.
“No, I don’t think so,” Roque said in a media forum when asked about its possibility.
The Palace official claimed that lawmakers won’t allow a reenacted budget to shield themselves from possible criticisms.
“I’m sure the Congress won’t allow that since they have personal stakes. They need to have all the resources they can get for the election,” Roque said.
“They cannot take the adverse public opinion if they choose to politick and not pass a Covid-19 related budget,” he added.
Roque, however, maintained that there were no irregularities in the government’s purchase of pandemic supplies, saying all transactions were above board.
At press time, senators have yet to comment on Duterte’s remarks.
The Duterte administration proposed a budget of P5.024 trillion for next year.
The Lower House has approved its version of the 2022 budget bill, while the Senate is yet to finalize its proposed measure.
On the same day that Duterte issued his warning, the Senate blue ribbon committee recommended criminal charges against government officials, Pharmally executives, and businessman Michael Yang over alleged irregularities in the procurement process.
The committee alleged in its initial findings that Yang, former Budget Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Liong, and Pharmally executives violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The panel also claimed that Pharmally’s Krizle Grace Mago and the firm’s secretary and treasurer Mohit Dargani committed estafa.
Lao and Liong purportedly committed fraud, while Yang, Pharmally’s Linconn Ong, and Mago allegedly committed perjury, according to the Senate committee.
Lawmakers also said that Liong, PS-DBM employee Melvin Ian Tanquintic, and retired agency officer Jorge Mendoza supposedly falsified public documents under the Revised Penal Code.