MANILA (UPDATE) - Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go on Thursday denied that a former budget official tagged in the questionable transfer of P42 billion from the Department of Health (DOH) earlier worked as his aide.
The Senate had found that former Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao was in charge of handling some P42 billion in funds that the DOH transferred to the DBM's procurement service without proper documentation.
Some House lawmakers and former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV claimed that Lao is a former member of Go’s staff.
"Lao did not directly report to me nor did he ever serve as my aide... To call him such is inaccurate," Go said in a statement.
Lao was a "volunteer election lawyer" during President Rodrigo Duterte's 2016 campaign, said Go, the former close aide of the chief executive.
"[Lao] was appointed to the Presidential Management Staff at the start of the term until early 2017. After which he was appointed to HLURB and later to the DBM in 2019 before resigning June of this year," he said.
"I already assumed my post in July 2019 as an elected Senator when Lao was designated to head the PS-DBM in August 2019."
Go, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, said he is supporting other lawmakers' push to further investigate DOH expenditures, which the Commission on Audit had flagged in its preliminary reports.
"Kung kailangang busisiin pa ang mga naging procurement ng PS-DBM na saklaw ng COA initial findings, by all means, silipin natin upang lumabas ang katotohanan," he said.
(If we have to examine procurements by PS-DBM that was covered by COA's initial findings, by all means, let's take a look so the truth will come out.)
"Kung kailangang ipatawag si Lao sa susunod na mga pagdinig, gawin natin upang magkaroon ng kaliwanagan, once and for all," he said.
(If we have to summon Lao in our next hearings, let's do that to get clarity once and for all.)
Go reiterated that he and Duterte would never tolerate "any form of corruption" in the bureaucracy.
"Kahit sino ka man, kahit saan ka man nanggaling, basta may anomalyang mapatunayan ay dapat may mananagot," he said.
(Whoever you are, wherever you came from, if it is proven that you were involved in anomaly, you should be held accountable.)
Duterte earlier slammed COA for flagging several transactions of the DOH, and said government agencies should just ignore these findings.
The President also repeatedly defended Health Secretary Francisco Duque III from allegations that he had a hand in irregularities at the DOH.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and lawmakers from the House of Representatives said they plan to summon Lao in their respective Congressional investigations later this month.
"Parang ginamit ang pandemya para ikutan yung usual procurement requirements," Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a press conference.
(It seems like they are using the pandemic to skirt usual procurement requirements.)
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Congress also has to check if other executive agencies have been using the PS-DBM to park funds.
"Sine-centralize, kinokopo yung iba't ibang purchases ng iba't ibang ahensiya." Zarate said.
(They are centralizing different purchases from various agencies.)
"Mas mahal pa yung binbili ng DBM Procurement Service," he said.
(The DBM Procurement Service is even purchasing items at a higher cost.)
The DBM earlier defended the prices of face masks and face shields it bought through the PS-DBM, saying they purchased the items when demand for personal protective equipment was high worldwide.
- with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News