MANILA— Malacañang argued on Tuesday state auditors have the power to look into finances of the Philippine Red Cross, a non-government humanitarian organization whose chairman had drawn President Rodrigo Duterte's ire over an investigation into pandemic transactions.
This, even as COA itself had told a legislative body it could not do so.
Under the constitution, the Commission on Audit can scrutinize the use of funds by NGOs "receiving subsidy or equity directly or indirectly from or through the government," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
Several COA issuances allow special audits on the Philippine Red Cross, he said in a press briefing.
Roque said a law also mandates the PRC to submit a yearly financial report to the President, its honorary chairman. Duterte's spokesman claimed the organization has failed to do this since 2016.
"May hurisdiksyon ba ho ang Commission on Audit sa Philippine Red Cross? Ang sagot, meron po," Roque said.
(Does the Commission on Audit have jurisdiction over the Philippine Red Cross. The answer is it has.)
He said a particular issue that the COA could look into was why the PRC supposedly charged P3,500 for COVID-19 tests, when the rate should be P2,000 since some materials and machines were donated.
Duterte on Aug. 30 lashed out at Sen. Richard Gordon, who is also the Red Cross chair, for spearheading a Senate investigation into the alleged overpriced medical equipment bought by the government in 2020.
He later accused Gordon of using the PRC to advance his political career. Gordon has expressed intent to seek the presidency, potentially becoming an opponent of the standard bearer of the Duterte faction of ruling party PDP-Laban.
The PRC on Friday said it "merely stepped up" when authorities failed to address the need for COVID-19 testing, which it said "should be the job of government."
"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," said the PRC's Board of Governors.
It noted the humanitarian organization has conducted 4 million COVID-19 tests so far, the highest in the country.
The PRC added it "allowed their finances to bleed from operational expenses and supplies related to testing" because the government failed to settle its ballooning debt.
The COA has said it cannot look into the organization.
"The only thing we can audit are payments by PhilHealth to the Red Cross but in that case what we’re auditing actually is PhilHealth in making those payments," COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo told lawmakers during a House hearing on Friday.