Duterte threatens to 'disassociate' with Red Cross if it rejects audit

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 11 2021 12:27 PM | Updated as of Sep 11 2021 12:46 PM

A woman counts the amount of cash aid given by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) at the Dr. Juan G. Nolasco Highschool in Tondo, Manila on July 3, 2020. The PRC reached out to 204 beneficiary families in Tondo giving out P3,500 per family as part of their cash assistance to households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File
A woman counts the amount of cash aid given by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) at the Dr. Juan G. Nolasco Highschool in Tondo, Manila on July 3, 2020. The PRC reached out to 204 beneficiary families in Tondo giving out P3,500 per family as part of their cash assistance to households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File


MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to stop government transactions with the Philippine Red Cross, which has ran millions of COVID-19 tests since last year, if the humanitarian organization refuses to undergo a state audit. 

Duterte said he would write to PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon to open the non-government organization's financial records so it could be scrutinized by the Commission on Audit.

The COA had said it has no jurisdiction over the NGO.

"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 said in a taped address that aired on Saturday.

"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.) 

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." 
 
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. 

Gordon has spoken of eyeing the presidency and could potentially be among opponents of the ruling PDP-Laban's ticket for 2022, where Duterte is running for Vice President.

The senator has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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.

Duterte in his latest national address said COA would commit "dereliction of duty" if it did not look into the PRC. 

"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. 
 
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.