Gordon turns Red Cross into milking cow—Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night accused Senator Richard Gordon of using the Philippine National Red Cross as a “milking cow” for his election campaigns and urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to investigate the agency, even though this would be beyond its jurisdiction.

Gordon turns Red Cross into milking cow—Duterte
Senator Richard Gordon

Duterte has been increasingly shrill in his attacks on Gordon, who leads the Senate Blue Ribbon committee that is investigating overpriced purchases by the administration of face masks and face shields on the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a tirade earlier this week, the President mocked Gordon as being overweight and as a “talkathon champion.”

Gordon, who has led the PRNC since 2004 as chairman and chief executive officer, has said he may run for president or vice president next year.

In Duterte’s latest attack, he said PNRC was planning to sell COVID-19 vaccines for P3,500 each, when Moderna vaccines cost $51 or roughly P2,500. “What is the extra P1,000 for and for whom?” Duterte asked.

"Is the Red Cross saving money so that it would eventually pass a resolution to set aside a big amount to fund your election plans, just like the funds you used in the 2010 and 2016 campaign?" he added.

Duterte said there was a conflict of interest in Gordon being a senator and the head of the Red Cross.

“Is it not fair to say now, you should resign and give others a chance so that we can put a stop to the nonsense you are doing?” Duterte said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Gordon said earlier President Duterte turned the COVID-19 funding mess involving his former appointees into “a personal fight.”

He criticized the way Duterte responded to the irregularities surrounding the Health department’s pandemic response funds, which are being questioned by the Senate.

During the Senate hearing, the committee presented a 2017 footage showing Duterte and Senator Christopher Go welcoming former economic adviser and Chinese businessman Michael Yang and the officials of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a small company that eventually bagged more than P8 billion in government contracts for overpriced face masks and face shields.

Responding to the latest attacks on him, Gordon urged the President not to pick a fight with him as they might lose sight of their task to catch those who stole millions of pesos from the COVID-19 response funds.

"You said you hate corruption," Gordon said.

In response to the accusation that he was using the PNRC to raise funds for his campaign, Gordon said he might not even run next year.

He said he believed this was another attempt by the President to distract the people again.

Echoing Senator Panfilo Lacson’s remark after Duterte mocked the way he combed his hair, Gordon said the President was panicking.

But Gordon said it is an honor to be attacked by the President for doing his job, both at the Senate and at the Red Cross.

"What did you do with the money because we are wondering, the people are wondering why are you giving billions when the country is in dire need of funds for our people. I really flared up when I saw them lying. So to my mind, I'm sorry Mr. President if I don't please you. I'm not here to please you, but I'm here to protect the Filipino people," Gordon said.

Gordon said he wanted to surpass the achievements of his mother, who served the Red Cross for 63 years.

"I'm trying to break her record. I've nothing to be ashamed of," he said.

The PRC Board of Governors stood by Gordon, who they hailed as an unsalaried volunteer who steered the PRC into a “responsive and modernized institution.”

“We stand solidly behind Chairman Gordon as he leads the valiant efforts of the PRC to serve millions of suffering Filipino people, especially during this protracted pandemic,” the PRC board said.

“It was not long before the PRC was doing the bulk of the country’s testing, at its height covering 45 percent of the requirement, picking up the slack for the government. Today, we are the largest testing provider in the country and have conducted over 4 million tests."

For its part, the Commission on Audit (COA) told congressmen on Friday it has no jurisdiction over the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) being a non-government humanitarian organization.

"We do not have jurisdiction to audit the… Philippine National Red Cross,” COA chairperson Michael Aguinaldo said during the deliberations on the proposed 2022 budget of the COA at the House of Representatives.

Congressmen asked Aguinaldo to comment on President Duterte's urging of COA to conduct an audit of the PNRC as he accused its chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, of using the humanitarian organization’s funds for the latter's previous election campaigns.

“The only thing we can audit are payments made by PhilHealth to the Red Cross but in that case what we’re auditing actually is PhilHealth in making those payments,” he added.

The mandate of COA covers government agencies and bodies only.

Also on Friday, former government corporate counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado called President Duterte a fool for demanding state auditors audit the funds of PNRC, which is a non-government entity.

"You are a fool, Mr. President. You are a lawyer and you should know that COA (Commission on Audit) cannot and has no power to audit Red Cross," Jurado said in a Facebook post.

At the same budget briefing, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman urged the COA to investigate, determine, and audit the purchases of vaccines of all brands contracted by the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force (NTF).

Lagman told Aguinaldo that the “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021” under RA 11525 and the Government Procurement Reform Act under RA 9184 unequivocally demand transparency and accountability in the government’s procurement process.

Aguinaldo agreed with Lagman that the constitutional mandate of the COA to audit government expenditures and disbursements is an exception to any non-disclosure agreements.

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