Duterte administration

France Castro wants Duterte summoned to House appropriations panel hearing

Kaycee Valmonte

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France Castro wants Duterte summoned to House appropriations panel hearing

Former president Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a press conference at a restaurant in Davao City on February 27, 2024.

Manman Dejeto/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Former senator Richard Gordon says after former health secretary Francisco Duque III – who revealed that Duterte had authorized the transfer of over P40 billion worth of DOH funds to the PS-DBM – can become a state witness

MANILA, Philippines – House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro said on Tuesday, June 4, that she will move to summon former president Rodrigo Duterte to a future hearing of the House committee on appropriations, after his former health chief said he gave the go-signal for a dubious fund transfer for pandemic supplies.

Mag-move tayo next hearing to summon former president Duterte para malaman ang side niya at mabigyan ng chance na magpaliwanag,” Castro told Rappler in a text message on Tuesday, June 4.

(In the next hearing, I will move to summon former president Duterte so that we will know his side and to give him a chance to explain.)

She said the next House committee on appropriations oversight hearing might be scheduled in the third week of June.

On Monday, June 3, former health secretary Francisco Duque III faced questions on his department’s decision to transfer P47.6 billion to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management. The DOH did so then to allow the PS-DBM to procure supplies on its behalf, despite the department being allowed to directly procure supplies on its own because of the country’s emergency status.

While responding to Castro’s questions on why the DOH funds were transferred to PS-DBM, Duque revealed that it was Duterte who authorized it. At the time, the House appropriations committee was conducting a review of the budgetary performance of the Department of Health and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for the first quarter of 2024 and prior years.

The former health secretary had also said the decision was publicly announced by Duterte during one of the weekly televised meetings with his Cabinet.

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Duterte gave green light to transfer P47.6-B pandemic funds to PS-DBM – Duque

Duterte gave green light to transfer P47.6-B pandemic funds to PS-DBM – Duque

It should be noted that the transfer allowed the PS-DBM to fund its P4.84-billion worth of contracts with Pharmally, which was found to have sold overpriced medical supplies to the government during the pandemic. (READ: LIST: Everything you need to know about the Pharmally pandemic deals scandal)

On Tuesday, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said that following Duque’s revelation, Duterte should be included in the investigation.

“Since Duque made this statement under oath, former president Duterte should be included in the investigation, especially since it can be proven that he was introduced to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation officials by Michael Yang, his special adviser, in 2017,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“Duterte should, at the very least, explain the policy considerations that resulted in his directive to secretary Duque,” she added.

Hontiveros, with then-senator Richard Gordon, had filed complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman on the alleged irregular transfer. This was also flagged by the Commission on Audit in 2020 and was the subject of a Senate blue ribbon committee investigation.

During the committee session on Monday, however, Duque, in defending his decision to follow the directive of the former chief executive, maintained that they just “followed all the PS-DBM requirements.”

“I do not want to belabor the laws that authorize the PS-DBM to procure in a state of public health emergency materials,” he said.

Duque as ‘major state witness’?

Gordon, who led the Senate probe into the multibillion-peso government contracts awarded to Pharmally as part of the Duterte administration’s COVID-19 response efforts, said that Duque can be tapped as a “major state witness” against Duterte, though this will depend on the Office of the Ombudsman.

Gordon said in an interview with ANC’s Headstart on Tuesday that this would be Duque’s “only chance at salvation.”

The former Senate blue ribbon committee chairperson said that based on what Duque had said at the House hearing on Monday, he “caved in” to Duterte’s order to transfer the funds.

“He could have said no. Under the law, if you follow an illegal order, you acquiesced, you would be charged,” Gordon said.

In May, the Ombudsman recommended that Duque and former PS-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao be charged with graft cases related to the irregular fund transfer. In a resolution dated May 6, the Ombudsman noted the DOH had “no legal obligation nor compelling reason” to transfer the funds to the PS-DBM in the first place.

“In this case of national health emergency where time is critical and the regulations clearly prescribe direct procurement, the DOH, with its available funds, could have purchased the essential goods needed for COVID-19 response directly from qualified suppliers,” the prosecutors said. – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. JD

    Given the huge amount of public funds involved and the highly dubious manner in which said funds had been expended, the people deserve no less than holding the then responsible officials accountable and once (rather than if) guilt is proven, appropriate corrective and punitive measures initiated.

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.