Palace trying to divert conversation on flagged pandemic spending, Robredo says
MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday hit Malacañang for pointing purchases of personal protective equipment in the past administration as a defense against criticism over the the government's pandemic spending, saying it was brought up to divert the conversation.
The Palace, and later President Rodrigo Duterte himself, raised that the Aquino administration bought PPEs at a higher price per set as senators questioned the Duterte administration’s purchase of medical supplies, including PPEs that were allegedly overpriced at P1,700 per set.
Speaking on her weekly radio show aired over dzXL, the vice president scored the Duterte administration for its overall pandemic response, saying she was "tempted" to volunteer to take over the coronavirus response of the task force.
"There seems to be no conductor. If I could just volunteer, [I would,] but it would be difficult to volunteer. If you don’t give blanket authority, you can’t do anything," she added.
Robredo said bringing up the PPE purchases during the previous administration "seems like a very lame attempt to divert the conversation."
Presidential sppokesperson Harry Roque was among the first to officially raise the issue of PPE purchases in the Aquino administration, later backtracking to say he never said those were overpriced either.
"Somebody did profit, but not in this administration," Roque said in Filipino at a press briefing.
Duterte, too, pushed back against the Senate probes, saying at a public address that they were carried out "for no purpose at all but to create noise."
The president has also hit back at Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that has been holding hearings on the Department of Health's pandemic spending, accusing him of using his chairmanship of the Philippine Red Cross as "a milking cow" for the coming elections.
In response to Duterte saying he wants to see the Commisison on Audit report on the Philippine Red Cross, the humanitarian organization said audits of its finances are "conducted by a private international accounting firm which is also the auditor of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies."
It added that "there have been no findings of any wrongdoing on the part of the institution or its officers" in the audits.
The PPE purchase
Robredo said that the last administration's purchases went through public bidding and not, as in the purchases by the Duterte administration, "basta lang nag-award."
The government has said that emergency powers granted to address the pandemic authorized doing away with bidding requirements.
"The company that won the deal, how much was the contract? Around P10 billion. The firm was newly organized, had a low capital, no office, and employees who have a criminal record in Taiwan. There are too many questions."
In a separate statement Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate may also look into whether Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a small company that was awarded supply deals by the budget department's procurement service, paid the right taxes on the more than P10 billion in contracts that it got.
"From what has been shown, it is not clear that Pharmally has paid the correct taxes. Bayanihan 1 and 2 does not exempt from VAT local purchases, therefore, the amount paid to Pharmally should have been subject to a 2% withholding tax on government payments, and a 5% VAT withholding," Drilon said.
"Apart from the issue of overpricing, there could be violations of our tax laws by Pharmally," Drilon, a party-mate of Robredo, said. "Did Pharmally pay any percentage tax? Did it pay any excise tax and documentary stamp tax payments?"
Duterte promises audit if elected VP
During her radio show last Sunday, Robredo also said the president was "deflecting" the conversation on the deficiencies flagged by COA, pointing out that "the most important office in at least lessening corruption is the Office of the President."
This came after Duterte said that he would personally audit all of the agencies in the Philippine government if he were to be elected vice president next year.
Duterte earlier claimed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had been "painted black" by the COA reports and urged government officials to just ignore the commission's findings.
"That's what I hate about flagging. It creates a conundrum and you know that it's political season. Everyone has tirades, everyone has criticisms. These newspapers act as if they are the epitome of propriety and decency," Duterte said at a public address in August.
“You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person you are flagging," he added.
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