MANILA — A photo presented by a lawmaker does not prove any relationship between President Rodrigo Duterte and government's second-biggest supplier during the pandemic, Malacañang said on Friday.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday showed a photo of Duterte in Malacañang with a certain Wang Min of Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group (XCMG). The Chinese firm last year bagged P1.67 billion worth of contracts from the Philippine government.
Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque argued public figures have no control over whoever wanted to take photos with them.
"At dahil usong-uso po ngayon ang picture-picture lalo na maraming cellphone, wala naman pong dapat i-conclude kung mayroon lang larawan," he said in a press briefing.
"Let’s just say under the laws of rules of evidence ‘no, iyong picture pong iyan ay ebidensiya lamang of the existence of the picture. It cannot prove relationship. Ikaw naman senadora, masyado ka namang imaginative."
(And because it is a practice to get pictures taken, especially since there are many cellphones, nothing should be concluded if there is a photo. Let’s just say under the laws of rules of evidence, that picture is only evidence of the existence of the picture – it cannot prove relationship. Senator, you are too imaginative.)
Roque also noted the photo was taken in 2017.
"Napakatagal pa po niyan bago magkaroon ng pandemya. So wala po talagang kinalaman iyang larawan na ‘yan," he said.
(It took a long time before the pandemic started, so that photo has nothing to do with the issue.)
Hontiveros on Thursday accused XCMG of tax evasion.
“Yung mainit na tinanggap noong 2017 sa Malacañang, tax evader pala ngayon. Bakit ba ang mga kumpanyang nagresponde sa pandemya sa Pilipinas, puro nanlalabag ng batas? Hindi tuloy malayong maisip na kaya ang daming kaso ng COVID-19 sa atin dahil sa mga kaduda-dudang medical suppliers,” Hontiveros said.
(The firm warmly accepted in Malacañang in 2017 is a tax evader. Why is it that the company that helped the country for its pandemic response is a law violator? Maybe we have a high number of COVID-19 cases because of the anomalous medical suppliers.)
The Chinese firm denied Hontiveros' allegation that it avoided paying taxes to the Philippines.
"Our transaction of PPE sets with the Philippines is considered a form of international trade that rightfully complies with established international trade practices and Philippine national laws," XCMG said in a statement shared by the Chinese embassy in Manila.
Senators are looking into the pandemic deals of another firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., which supposedly has ties to Duterte's former economic adviser Michael Yang.
Some Pharmally officers did not file their income tax returns in 2020 and the years prior, information provided by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) showed on Thursday.
While Roque reiterated the transactions with Pharmally were legal and not overpriced, he said the alleged non-payment of taxes was a different issue.
"Siyempre po ang Ehekutibo ang mangunguna na mangolekta ng taxes kung talagang kinakailangang kolektahin iyan dahil kinakailangan natin ng pondo sa panahon ng pandemya," he said.
"Huwag po kayong mag-alala, hindi po natutulog sa pansitan ang ating BIR, kung talagang may kulang pong taxes, hahabulin po natin ‘yan."
(Of course the executive will take the lead in collecting taxes if necessary because we need those funds during the pandemic. Do not worry, the BIR is not sleeping; if there are mixing taxes, we will go after them.)