MANILA - Malacañang denied Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte had exempted 2 officials from the government-wide corruption investigation that he ordered, contrary to a senator's claim.
The President claimed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar were not involved in corrupt deeds in their respective agencies, on the same day that he ordered the justice department to investigate anomalies, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
"Wala naman po sigurong ganoon (exceptions)," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters. "Naghahanap lang po ng ebidensya ang Pangulo."
(There is no such thing. The President is only looking for evidence.)
"Kahit sino naman po, kahit gaano kalapit sa kanya, kahit gaano ang pagpuri niya sa nakaraan, kung mayroon naman pong ebidensya ng katiwalian ay parurusahan ng ating Presidente."
(No matter who, no matter how close to him, no matter his past praise, if there is evidence of corruption, our President will punish them.)
Roque cited as example the case of former state medical insurer PhilHealth CEO and President Ricardo Morales. Duterte had initially defended Morales before asking him to resign.
In 2016, Duterte won the presidency after campaigning to fight corruption, crime, and illegal drugs.
But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.
Duterte issued a memorandum directing the justice ministry to look into anomalies at state agencies until the end of his term in 2022. It gives the ministry the power to decide what allegations to investigate and to work with other agencies.
"I hope that all government workers, officials are listening. This is a memorandum from me to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra... The subject is investigate of allegations of corruption in the entire government--Lahat (everything)," he said in a taped speech aired Tuesday.
The Philippines fell 14 notches to 113th spot among 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year.
Duterte is not eligible for re-election, but fulfilling his campaign pledge on corruption could help the chances of his chosen successor in the 2022 elections.
The justice department said it would work with other government agencies on investigations.
"It will help us a lot if government workers themselves and the people they deal with would come forward and provide us the necessary information to uncover corrupt activities and identify the perpetrators," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters.
- With a report from Reuters