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Duterte bars Cabinet execs from attending Senate Pharmally probe sans clearance

President Rodrigo Duterte has required Cabinet members to get a clearance from him first before they can attend the Senate investigation into the government's purchase of allegedly overpriced pandemic-related supplies.

In a taped address aired Tuesday morning, Duterte said he is not questioning the authority and the power of the Senate to investigate in aid of legislation. However, he said some resource persons, especially those coming from the Executive department, attended the hearings for hours but were not given a chance to give their testimonies.

“We do not question the authority and the power of the Senate to investigate in aid of legislation. But alam mo kasi, nakita ko na pinapatawag ninyo almost so many persons and yet you only able to put the resource person for five, six, seven hours, ‘yung iba naghihintay na wala namang silbi, and yet the subpoenas are repeated every hearing at pinapatawag sila and they get most of the DOH officials in these morning hearings, they are all there doing nothing,” Duterte said.

(We do not question the authority and the power of the Senate to investigate in aid of legislation, but I saw that you call almost so many persons to hearings that lasted five, six, seven hours, and yet some of them are just waiting and doing nothing.)

Duterte mentioned Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as an example, saying the Health chief’s testimony is not being used as the Senate probe is already “branching out” to other issues.

The President said the investigation started with the purchases made by the Department of Health that was flagged by the Commission on Audit; then to the issue with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corporation, the small company that bagged billions of pesos worth of government contracts; and now illegal drugs.

“Mahirap ‘yang ganyan pinapatawag niyo, pabalik-balik tapos di naman niyo nayu-utilize ang testimony,” Duterte said.

(It is difficult for them to be called in the hearings yet their testimonies are not being utilized.)

“This time, I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation and if I think, that he will be called for walang silbi [no purpose] except to harass, to be berated in front of the republic, eh hintuin ko na yan at pagbawalan ko na [I will bar them from attending],” he added.

While Duterte acknowledged the power of the Senate to cite the Cabinet members in contempt, he said he can exercise his authority over his Cabinet secretaries as head of the Executive Department.

“Now, may option kayo, you can cite in contempt pero ako na magsabi na ako ang may utos na hindi mag-attend [but I will order them not to attend] so that is,  I think I can do it as president really if there is an abuse of authority there or exceeding the authority of the reasonable time that the Congress conducts a hearing I will limit you to what you can do with the Executive Department of the government,” he said.

Duterte said anew that the senators are stretching the hearing because “it is good for the election.”

On the other hand, Duterte, who earlier defended the government transactions with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, said the Senate can “crumple” the company.

“Sagasaan na ninyo ’yung sagasaan, ‘yung Pharmally puwede na ninyong watak-watakin ‘yan at you would do what you want kasi kami dito tapos na,” he said.

He maintained that the government procurement of face masks, face shields, and the personal protective equipment (PPEs), is in accordance with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law.

“I used the Bayanihan 1… Sabi niyo [You said] you can take whatever measures for the fastest delivery of the things that we need. So iyon ang ginagawa namin tapos ngayon [That’s what we did yet] you are dwelling on the procurement law in asking the officials to explain of their actuations,” the president said.

“Ngayon nag-order kami delivered and inspected if it was really the order --- the things that we ordered according to specifications and it was, then we paid. We did not shell out anything before delivery. Para sa akin tapos na kami,” he said.

(We ordered then it was delivered and inspected if it was really the order— the things that we ordered according to specifications and it was, then we paid. We did not shell out anything before delivery. For me, we’re already done with them.)

“Iyang Pharmally ninyo pati droga bahala kayo. Wala akong pakialam diyan….You can crumple ang Pharmally, wala kaming pakialam diyan.”

(Do whatever you want with Pharmally even with the drug issues. I don’t care about that… You can crumple Pharmally. I don't care about it.)

The Senate blue ribbon committee is looking into the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service's procurement of P8.6-billion worth of face masks, face shields, and PPEs from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation. The company only had P625,000 paid-up capital, Senator Franklin Drilon said.

During a Senate hearing last Friday, Pharmally president Huang Tzu Yen admitted that they borrowed money from former presidential adviser Michael Yang.

Order has legal basis

Meanwhile, at a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte's order has legal basis, citing the 2006 Supreme Court ruling that deemed Executive Order 464, which bans Cabinet officials from attending congressional probe without clearance from the Chief Executive if it involves matters of national security, as constitutional.

“There is legal basis if the President decides to do that,” Roque said.

The same SC ruling on EO 464, however, allows Congress to compel Cabinet officials to attend investigations provided that the probe is in aid of legislation.

Roque agreed that Congress has such authority but maintained that such power is not unlimited.

“It should be in aid of legislation, not in aid for election. ‘Yan po ay hindi papayagan ng Ehekutibo [The Executive will not allow that],” Roque said.

EO 464 was issued in 2005 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. —with Llanesca T. Panti/KBK/BM, GMA News