MANILA (UPDATE)—A lawyers’ group has criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s order barring Cabinet members from attending the Senate investigation into allegedly anomalous multibillion-peso deals for the purchase of pandemic supplies, urging him to recall his directive.
The Philippine Bar Association, a group of lawyers established in 1891, said in a statement Tuesday that the President’s directive for officials of the Executive department to disobey summons issued by the Senate “upsets our system of checks and balances and transgresses the doctrine of separation of powers among the three (3) branches of government.”
It also cited the President's order for the military and police to ignore ignore warrants of arrest issued by the Senate against resource persons it has summoned but refused to appear. The lawyers' group called it an “undue impairment of legislative prerogatives.”
“We appeal for President Duterte, a brother in the legal profession, to immediately recall his twin directives that in our view constitute clear violations of the Constitution. We demand for all politicians not to trifle with our people’s Constitution in the games they play,” it said.
On Duterte's order to his cabinet, the Bar group said it was "detrimental to our people exacting accountability from officials of the Executive Department, through our duly elected representatives in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee exercising their Constitutional power of legislative oversight"
"That the ongoing investigation focuses on alleged anomalies in the use of huge amounts of public funds, during a pandemic that has cost countless Filipino lives, makes the quest of public accountability of vital importance,” it said.
In a Teleradyo interview Wednesday, PBA president Rico Domingo said Duterte's directive to the police and military to ignore warrants of arrest issued by the Senate would set a bad precedent.
"Nakakatakot pong precedence 'yan. Sinasama ang mga sundalo, mga uniformed people dito sa political play na ito," he said.
(That's a bad precedence. Involving soldiers, uniformed people in this political play.)
Duterte, in a speech in Malacañang Monday night, revealed he has signed a memorandum prohibiting Cabinet members from attending the Senate probe on the Pharmally deals because they supposedly do not have the time to participate.
The President also accused the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee of blatant disrespect of resource persons.
The Senate probe has so far uncovered that Pharmally did not have the financial capacity to supply billions worth of medical supplies and had to resort to borrowing from former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang or asking him to be the guarantor.
It also revealed that Pharmally executives ordered their staff to replace the expiration dates of substandard, dirty, yellowish and wet face shields.
Pharmally executive Krizle Mago confirmed this during a Senate hearing and admitted her company “swindled” the government just before she went incommunicado. She then resurfaced to recant her testimony while under the protection of the House of Representatives, a chamber seen to favor the President and Pharmally.
Mago claimed she was pressured into making the admission and contracted COVID-19, but senators are not buying her excuse.
In its statement, the Bar association referenced Duterte’s promise not to tolerate a “whiff of corruption” in government, saying they agree with this statement while urging the President to “let the ax fall where it may.”
Pharmally had bagged close to P12 billion worth of contracts for the purchase of medical supplies for government.
Other Senate revelations showed the Philippine government allegedly lost P5 million to commissions for the purchase of face masks through Pharmally, which also allegedly failed to deliver complete RT-PCR test kits, which contributed to delays in COVID-19 testing.
Pharmally executives also supposedly bought luxury vehicles after bagging huge contracts with the budget department’s Procurement Service.
But President Rodrigo Duterte and members of the House panel on good governance have repeatedly defended the deals, saying the Bayanihan laws exempted these transactions from the restrictions of standard bidding procedures because these were supposedly emergency purchases.
Rights coalition KARAPATAN, in a statement, said the order Duterte signed is "nothing more than a desperate attempt to cover up what now appears to be a wide scale corruption scandal involving Duterte's men."
“Why is Duterte prohibiting his Cabinet from appearing before the Senate to face these corruption allegations? Any issue involving the use of people’s funds — especially amid this crisis — is a matter of public interest. Stifling investigations into these issues infringes upon the public’s right to know,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
“People, both patients and health workers, are dying and suffering in hospitals because of low pay and lack of medical equipment and facilities, thousands are suffering from hunger after they lost their jobs but the government is giving only trickles of ayuda, but apparently, that is not the case for Duterte and his men whose pockets have only shamelessly grown fatter in this crisis,” she added.