Duterte says COA would commit 'dereliction of duty' if it refuses to audit Red Cross

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 11 2021 11:08 AM | Updated as of Sep 11 2021 12:02 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte attends an event of his political party in San Fernando City, Pampanga on Sept. 8, 2021. Toto Lozano, Presidential Photo/File
President Rodrigo Duterte attends an event of his political party in San Fernando City, Pampanga on Sept. 8, 2021. Toto Lozano, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday the Commission on Audit would commit "dereliction of duty" if it refuses to look into the finances of the Philippine Red Cross.

COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo has said the body has no jurisdiction over the humanitarian organization as it is not a government agency. He said COA could only look into the state medical insurer's payments to the Red Cross for running COVID-19 tests.

But Duterte, who has been hitting at Red Cross chair Sen. Richard Gordon, whose Senate committee is investigating alleged corruption in his administration's dealings related to the COVID-19 response, insisted COA should audit the non-government organization.

"COA is an independent body. No one would also to tinker with another, lahat. How now to, not really force, but persuade COA to conduct the investigation audit? If he refuses, that would be a dereliction of duty," Duterte said in a taped speech that aired on Saturday. 

"This will involve a long legal battle, but I am prepared to go into it, and demand really the accountability of Sen. Gordon and all of them in the Red Cross to account by the money that was given by the government of the Philippines for a long time," he added. 

Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, earlier drew Duterte's insults for leading a probe into government's pandemic transactions, including the procurement of allegedly overpriced anti-virus masks and face shields. 

One of Duterte's former economic advisers, Michael Yang, is among those under investigation.

Duterte reiterated the transaction was "legal" and that he would resign if proven it was anomalous. He has many times threatened to leave office for various reasons. His term ends next year and he is running for Vice President.

"If you keep calling people there, how they can work?" he said of the Senate probe. 

He said he would write Gordon to open up the PRC's records so it could be audited by COA. 

"Ngayon kung ayaw mo, mapipilitan akong totally i-disassociate with you. I will stop the national government and all from having transaction with you in any manner," Duterte threatened the senator. 

"Wala akong pakialam, hindi ako magbigay ng pera sa'yo saka as far as I'm concerned, Red Cross does not exist. You can create a controversy there or crisis, I do not mind because I said I am on the right track." 

(Now if you refuse, I will be forced to totally i-disassociate with you... I do not care, I will not give you money, and as far as I am concerned, Red Cross does not exist.) 

Still addressing Gordon, he said, "Either you submit to an auditing procedure or we quarrel. 'Pag mag-quarrel, do your worse because I will do mine." 

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The PRC last week 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."

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 PRC Board of Governors, in a statement, said it does not receive any funds from the government. 

It added that the PRC is audited by a private and international accounting firm, which has spotted no anomalies with the organization's handling of funds from numerous donors.

Gordon, meanwhile, said Duterte was "covering his tracks [and] trying to protect his people" with his tirades.